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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 coined by celebrity divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson in 1977 when his client Michelle Triola Marvin filed an unsuccessful suit against the actor Lee Marvin.[1]


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 and/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.[2] In the State of New Jersey, palimony cases are tried in Family Court.[citation needed]

Marvin v. Marvin[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.[3]

Notable cases[edit]

  • Tennis player Billie Jean King was sued by Marilyn Barnett in 1981.
  • 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.[4][5]
  • In 2004, comedian Bill Maher was sued for US$9 million by his ex-girlfriend, Nancy "Coco" Johnson.[6][7][8] On May 2, 2005, a California Superior Court judge dismissed the case.[9][10][11]

In popular culture[edit]

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).

Palimony was used as a form of revenge by the Bridgette Wilson character, Chelsea Turner, against her character's boyfriend Seth Winnick (played by French Stewart) in the 1999 film Love Stinks.

Included in the liner notes for Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet album is a thank you to the group's "expensive lawyers" for helping them to negotiate alimony and palimony payments.

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.[episode needed]


  1. ^ Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 C3d 660. Retrieved on 2008-03-01
  2. ^ Granat, Richard (2008). "Property Rights of Unmarried Couples in New York". New York Divorce Law. Retrieved 2008-08-26. 
  3. ^ Laskin, Jared (18 April 2007). "California Palimony Law: An Overview". Law Office of Jared Laskin. Archived from the original on 2006-08-12. Retrieved 2006-10-04. 
  4. ^ Linda Rapp. "Cliburn, Van (b. 1934)". Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  5. ^ "Court grants Pianist's ex-Partner Chance to Amend Suit". AEGiS. National Library of Medicine. August 1997. Retrieved 2008-03-01. 
  6. ^ "Maher: Ex Is Serial Shakedown Artist". The Smoking Gun. November 29, 2004.
  7. ^ "The Fix ". Salon. November 30, 2004.
  8. ^ Keller, Julie (November 30, 2004). "Bill Maher Cries 'Con'". E!.
  9. ^ "Judge Dismisses $9M Lawsuit Against Bill Maher". Fox News/Associated Press. May 4, 2005.
  10. ^ Hagan, Joe (April 9, 2012). “It Won’t Hurt You. It’s Vapor.” New York magazine. p. 6.
  11. ^ "Judge Dismisses $9M Lawsuit Against Bill Maher". Fox News/Associated Press. May 4, 2005.

Further reading[edit]