What is Palimony? 23

Financial Obligations for Unmarried Couples Who Split

The term “palimony” is actually not a legal term but one that society uses to describe financial support and property division between an unmarried couple.

Typically, unmarried couples (including those that were engaged) do not enjoy the protections and benefits of marriage including those extended during a divorce. That means that unmarried couples are not entitled to spousal support nor are they entitled to a portion of the “marital estate ” because, essentially, there is no marital estate to divide.

However, the courts also recognize that many couples live together as if they were married and make financial and life decisions based upon the promise of the relationship.

Because of this, some courts have ruled that a financial obligation still exists even though no formal marriage has taken place. This is most often seen in cases where couples have lived together for long periods of time and had no formal or written agreement with regard to financial support after the split.

An award of palimony also depends greatly upon the original intentions of the parties as well as any oral promises that were made over the years. In addition, palimony is not written in stone so each case will depend upon the laws of your state as well as the unique facts of your case.

Some general considerations for palimony are:

  • Length of the relationship
  • Promises or intent of financial support
  • Sacrifices made by one partner to further the career of the other and the earning ability of that partner as a result of the sacrifice made
  • Difference between incomes

Palimony is often made as a lump sum distribution instead of monthly payments and may be split between cash and property. In order to receive palimony, a suit must be brought before the court and the process can become very complicated especially with the absence of any written agreements.

To alleviate this problem, couples can enter into a formal agreement that outlines their intent to share an interest in various property as well as an agreement about paying financial support after a breakup.

Often called a cohabitation agreement, this type of document is similar to a prenuptial agreement in that it stipulates who gets what and how the breakup will affect the parties financially. The difference is that a prenup assumes that a marriage is forthcoming and does not actually go into effect until the marriage has legally occurred.

A cohabitation agreement, on the other hand, does not anticipate a marriage and effectively ends when and if a marriage does take place.

Cohab agreements allow couples to protect their financial interests while living together and can be a great solution for engaged couples who are deeply entwined financially.

You may also want to read this book to learn more about cohabitation agreements.


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