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Palimony is the division of financial assets and real property on the termination of a personal live-in relationship wherein the parties are not legally married. The term palimony is not a legal or historical term, but rather a colloquial portmanteau of the words pal and alimony.
The word was coined by celebrity divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson in 1977 when his client Michelle Triola Marvin filed an unsuccessful suit against the actor Lee Marvin. While the suit was unsuccessful in this instance, the courts found that "in the absence of an express agreement, courts may look to a variety of other remedies to divide property equitably." It is unclear as to how many states currently expressly forbid any kind of palimony to be awarded – that is to say, how many states allow both partners in an unmarried cohabitation, to expressly keep all that is under their own name, including income and property. But it is widely recommended by legal offices across the country that prior to committing to an unmarried but romantic cohabitation, the couple should enter into a legal cohabitation agreement prior to moving in together.
Unlike alimony, which is typically provided for by law, palimony is not guaranteed to unmarried partners. There must be a clear agreement, written or oral, by both partners stipulating the extent of financial sharing or support in order for palimony to be granted. Palimony cases are determined in civil court as a contract matter, rather than in family court, as in cases of divorce. In the State of New Jersey, palimony cases are tried in Family Court.
In states that recognize palimony, there is variance in the factors that are taken into consideration by the court and the weight that these factors are given:
- Length of the relationship
- Commitment between partners that one would financially provide for the other for life
- Promises between partners that can be proven
- Written financial agreements
- Ability of the plaintiff to support themselves financially
- Giving up a career to provide services such as care of the home or children
- Sacrifices made by one partner to put the other partner through college
- Disparity in income
Oral or implied contracts are often taken into consideration also.
In 1983, only three states legally rejected palimony. As of 2016, 24 states legally rejected palimony.
Marvin v. Marvin
Michelle Triola spent several years living with actor Lee Marvin. After their breakup, she legally adopted the surname Marvin despite never having been married to him, and claimed he had promised to support her for the rest of her life. In the end, in Marvin v. Marvin, the California Supreme Court ruled that Triola had not proven the existence of a contract between herself and Mr. Marvin that gave her an interest in his property. Thus, the common law rule applied to the situation without alteration, and she took away from the relationship and the household what she brought to it.
The Court went on to explain that while the state abolished common law marriage in 1896, California law recognizes non-marital relationship contracts. These contracts may be express or implied, oral or written—but they must be provable in any case. The contract may also provide for a sexual relationship as long as it is not a contract for sexual services. Eventually, the California Court of Appeal ruled that since Michelle Triola and Lee Marvin never had a contract, she was not entitled to any money.
Due to the notoriety of the case, subsequent lawsuits involving cohabitating but unmarried parties trying to enforce promises of support or property rights came to be known as Marvin actions or Marvin claims.
- Rock musician Peter Frampton was sued by Penelope J. "Penny" McCall in 1976. McCall asked for half of Frampton’s earnings during the five years that they were together. According to McCall, she gave up her job as a rock promoter and devoted herself full-time to Frampton, right at the time that he achieved superstar status. A New York judge ruled that Frampton and McCall never intended to marry each other and "never held themselves out to the public as husband and wife" and dismissed her complaint on the grounds that to act otherwise would condone adultery. The case set precedent in New York state.
- Tennis player Billie Jean King was sued by Marilyn Barnett in 1981.
- In 1982, world-famous piano virtuoso Liberace's 22-year-old former chauffeur and live-in lover of five years, Scott Thorson, sued the pianist for $113 million in palimony after he was let go by Liberace. The case was settled out of court in 1986, with Thorson receiving a $75,000 cash settlement, plus three cars and three pet dogs worth another $20,000.
- Tennis player Martina Navratilova was sued by Judy Nelson in 1991.
- In 1996, Van Cliburn was sued by former partner Thomas Zaremba for a share of his income and assets following a 17-year relationship ending in 1994. Zaremba's palimony case was dismissed for lack of written agreement, along with claims for emotional distress and that Cliburn subjected him to the fear of AIDS through Cliburn's alleged unprotected liaisons with third parties.
- In 2004, comedian Bill Maher was sued for US$9 million by his ex-girlfriend, Nancy "Coco" Johnson. On May 2, 2005, a California Superior Court judge dismissed the case.
In popular culture
Country singer Leon Rausch's song "Palimony" went to #81 on the Billboard Country charts in 1980.
Stuck on You! is a 1982 comedy film follows estranged couple Bill and Carol, who are in a palimony suit against each other.
In the 1996 film The Birdcage, which is adapted from the play La Cage Aux Folles, Albert Goldman (played by Nathan Lane) asks for a palimony agreement from his partner, Armand Goldman (Robin Williams).
Seeking palimony was an option considered by the lawyer Jane Bingum (Brooke Elliott) during an episode of Drop Dead Diva, where one man married two women. The women ultimately chose to sue their husband for fraud with the second wife's palimony on hold pending the ruling .[episode needed]
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