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How Palimony Works in New Jersey

When a married couple divorces, they are likely to face significant financial upheaval. They’ll need to maintain separate houses, deal with changes to taxation, and adjust to a single-income (or zero-income) situation. The law recognizes that divorce often leaves one party in a significantly worse position than the other, giving rise to the need for alimony. If a couple is together for many years but never marries, however, is either person entitled to any financial support? What if they lived together, raised children together, and one partner gave up their career to support the family, just like in a marriage? To learn about the concept of “palimony” and how it works in New Jersey, read on. If you are seeking financial support from your former spouse or partner, call a savvy Englewood family law attorney for advice and assistance.

What is Palimony?

Palimony is a colloquial term, not an actual legal term. Alimony is a legal obligation owed by one former spouse to another, meant to provide for lower-earning spouses who may be unable to financially support themselves after a divorce. Depending on the type of alimony ordered, it may be geared toward reimbursing one spouse for their contributions to the marriage or to provide support while the lower-earning spouse gets the training and education they need to become self-supporting.

Alimony is a legal right incidental to marriage. Parties who were never married are not entitled to any alimony from the other party, even if they cohabitated for some time. Historically, that meant that people who date and live together for a long time were not able to collect any financial assistance from their former partner, even if they were likely to become just as destitute as a divorced spouse without a career, and even if the higher-earning partner promised to financially support their partner during and after the relationship.

In recent years, however, there’s been a shift in mentality. Courts in New Jersey and elsewhere have come to recognize that unmarried romantic partners can become just as financially dependent upon one another, and that parties act in reliance on financial guarantees made by their partners. Under certain circumstances, courts will order one party to pay their former partner a sum of money. Journalists and others refer to this type of payment colloquially as “palimony.”

Can You Get Palimony in New Jersey?

Palimony was first recognized in New Jersey in a 1979 New Jersey Supreme Court decision. That case involved a man and woman who lived together and raised children together for more than a decade. After a breakup in the middle of their relationship, the man pleaded with the woman to return, promising to take care of her financially. They continued living together as a family for several more years.

When they later broke up, the woman sued for financial support. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that the woman was “not entitled to alimony or equitable distribution” since they were never married. However, the Court found that the parties had entered into an agreement when they reconciled, under which the man agreed to provide financial support to the woman “for the rest of her life.” They ordered the man to pay her a lump sum equivalent to support for life.

In 2010, after decades of court decisions in all directions, the New Jersey legislature passed a law to clarify and codify so-called palimony agreements. The new law actually made such agreements more difficult to enforce. Under the terms of the new law, a palimony agreement will only be enforceable if all of the following applies:

  • The two parties are in a nonmarital personal relationship;
  • One partner makes a “promise . . . to provide support or other consideration for the other party;”
  • The promise to provide support is drafted in a written agreement;
  • The party who is meant to provide support signed the agreement; AND
  • The agreement is made after both parties receive independent advice of counsel (i.e., separate lawyers).

Thus, if you hope to obtain financial support from your romantic partner, you need to get them to agree to provide continued support, and you must get it in writing. There’s no implied right to “palimony” as there is with alimony, and an oral promise to provide financial support is not sufficient.
Note that different rules apply to child support. Child support belongs to the child, not to the parent, and it is in no way dependent upon marriage. If one parent has primary custody of the children, the other parent can be ordered to pay child support, regardless of whether the parents were ever married and whether the parties ever agreed to child support in the past.

If you’re considering divorce in New Jersey or dealing with alimony, child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.