What Is Palimony?

Palimony is a term that refers to the payment of financial support from one party to another following the end of a relationship that is not legally recognized as a valid marriage. The word “palimony” is a combination of “pal” and “alimony” and was coined as a result of the 1976 court case Marvin v. Marvin, in which the court allowed that financial agreements between unmarried partners were enforceable. When palimony can be awarded—and in what amount—is determined on a state-by-state basis because not all states recognize it.

Key Takeaways

  • Palimony refers to the payment of financial support from one unmarried partner to another following the end of a relationship.
  • Palimony is not the same thing as alimony, which is a type of financial support that may be awarded by the court following the dissolution of a legal marriage.
  • Whether partners in a relationship are entitled to palimony can depend on where they live because not all states have palimony laws in place.
  • In states where palimony is recognized, there may need to be a preexisting oral or written agreement between partners for it to be enforceable.

Understanding Palimony

Palimony is a form of financial support that can be awarded to one partner of an unmarried couple following the end of their relationship. It’s often discussed in relation to couples who follow common-law marriage rules. Common-law marriage means no marriage license has been obtained or marriage ceremony performed, but the relationship is still recognized as a marriage in the eyes of the law. Eight states—Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah—have common law marriage statutes, and Rhode Island recognizes them based on case law.

The majority of states have some type of formal law governing palimony agreements. The form this agreement takes (either written or verbal) can vary, depending on each state’s guidelines. When deciding whether to award palimony and how much to award, the court can consider:

  • What form the palimony agreement takes
  • How long the relationship lasted
  • The living arrangement between partners
  • Whether the couple presented themselves as husband and wife
  • Whether the couple has children
  • Income of each partner
  • Financial assets of each partner
  • Whether either partner has formed a financially supportive relationship with someone else

In a palimony suit, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to show that a marriage-like relationship did exist and a financial agreement was established as part of it.

When a palimony agreement is in place, it typically can’t be modified unless either partner can demonstrate a significant change in their financial situation.

How Palimony Works

The rules for palimony can vary from state to state and, again, not all states recognize this form of financial support for unmarried couples or those who follow common-law marriage rules. If you believe you have an agreement with a former partner that entitles you to palimony, you need to file a civil claim.

The court then reviews the details of the relationship along with any documented evidence you have to support your claim. If the court rules in your favor, your former partner would be required to provide any financial support specified by the court, which may include regular palimony payments or the transfer of certain assets.

If you and your former partner have children together, you need to file a separate court action to collect child support payments and/or work out a custody agreement.

Palimony vs. Alimony

Palimony and alimony sound similar, but they’re not the same. Alimony is a form of court-ordered financial support that’s paid by one spouse to another following the end of a marriage. Alimony agreements can only be established by married couples who are divorcing. The money is paid to the spouse who can establish a financial need and is separate from court-ordered child support payments.

If you’re not married and your relationship comes to an end, you could file a civil suit to make a palimony claim. Whether your efforts are successful can depend on the requirements to prove palimony in your state. Alimony must be negotiated as part of a divorce settlement, and the guidelines for determining payments are set by each state. Depending on where you live, it may be possible to get alimony even after the divorce is final.

In Massachusetts, for example, either spouse can ask for alimony when a divorce case proceeding begins, but you can still ask for alimony after the divorce is final, even if your original decree makes no mention of it at all. Existing alimony agreements are also modifiable under state law.

Palimony vs. Alimony: Key Differences
 Palimony  Alimony
Court-ordered financial support for unmarried couples Court-ordered financial support for married couples who are divorcing
Not recognized by every state; requirements for claiming palimony vary from state to state Recognized in every state, though alimony laws may differ
May require a preexisting oral or written agreement to enforce No preexisting agreement necessary for enforcement

For divorces finalized on or after Jan. 1, 2019, alimony payments are no longer a tax-deductible expense, and the person receiving alimony does not have to include it as taxable income.

Example of Palimony

The most famous example of a palimony case is that of Marvin v. Marvin. Plaintiff Michelle Triola brought suit against actor Lee Marvin, claiming that he had promised to provide her with financial support for the rest of her life. Though never married, Triola assumed Marvin’s surname and produced documents showing evidence of the relationship.

If you think you’re entitled to palimony following the end of a relationship, you may want to talk to a divorce attorney or family law attorney to discuss your options for filing a claim.

Ultimately, the court decided that Triola was unable to prove the existence of a financial agreement between herself and the defendant. Still, the court did rule that when an express or implied contract did exist between two parties in a nonmarital relationship, they could be enforceable if they were provable. Ms. Triola’s attorney, Marvin Mitchelson, is credited with coining the term “palimony” while working on the case.