Palimony is just not Alimony – A long run relationship alone doesn’t entitle you to Fox Rothschild LLP assist
Many people think that Palimon is just maintenance with a “P” and that the mere existence of a long-term unmarried relationship in which people live together is enough to convey a certain right to support. After arguing the landmark Maeker v Ross case in relation to palimony in the New Jersey Supreme Court, I made it clear in the past on this blog that it is not. Rather, for relationships that existed prior to 2010, it had to be a promise made expressly or implicitly by the supporting party that they intended to support the other person for life. After 2010, a Palimony agreement had to be made in writing, which in all respects eliminated Palimony for relations under the statute.
However, we are still seeing cases after long-term relationships ended before the 2010 law where the parties lived together, and litigation ensues after the relationship ends. One such case is the unreported case of Lernihan v Revolinsky, an unreported (non-overriding) Appeals Division decision that was released on February 22, 2021. What is remarkable about the decision is its brevity, only 6 1/2 pages. Despite the brevity, there are interesting things that can be gleaned from the case.
Here are the relevant facts. The parties met in 1996, later became engaged, but never married. They lived together in a marital relationship from 2002 to 2016 and had two children. They bought and sold two houses, each of which contributed to the deposit with its own income and savings. Both worked for most of the years they lived together and the plaintiff was financially dependent on the defendant for only a short time after their children were born. That is, even then, she paid part of the children’s expenses as well as her own from her own resources. Besides owning their homes together, the parties did not mix their assets. Rather, they kept separate bank accounts and made defined contributions to their joint expenses. Aside from owning their homes together, they never mixed their wealth or earnings. At the time of the proposal, the plaintiff was making approximately $ 49,250 and the defendant was making $ 57,083 – less than a difference of $ 8,000. At the time of the trial, the plaintiff, who graduated during his engagement to the defendant, made approximately $ 104,301 and the defendant $ 174,147. The only thing that was required in the statement regarding the pledge of support for life to uphold a claim to palimony was the plaintiff’s testimony that she interpreted the obligation “… to mean that the defendant undertook had to support her financially for life ”.
The court denied this interpretation, ruling that the plaintiff was not eligible for palimony, and the appeals division upheld it. The appeals division took note of the court’s reasoning as follows:
Judge Espinales-Maloney found the defendant’s denial that he had ever committed to supporting the plaintiff for life more credible than the plaintiff’s allegation he had. In fact, the judge was of the opinion that the plaintiff was a self-sufficient specialist who could “take care of herself with a reasonable degree of comfort”. In the judge’s view, the facts necessary for a successful palimony claim were absent altogether. At the beginning of the relationship, not only was the plaintiff’s financial situation the same, but any belief in the defendant’s alleged obligation to support her for life was completely refuted by the way the parties lived and managed their money.
The Appeals Department gave a brief overview of the Palimony Act – at least it passed before the law as follows:
“The palimony right to support” does not result from the relationship itself, but is a contractually created right. “In the estate of Roccamonte, 174 NJ 381, 389 (2002). The promise of support can be expressly expressed[,] or both. “I would. The existence of a contract is determined primarily by the” actions and conduct of the parties in the light of the subject matter and the circumstances. “Kozlowski v Kozlowski, 80 NJ 378, 384 (1979).
For a Palimony claim, “the party seeking Palimony must look for economic inequality and inability to live independently and with adequate support”. Bayne v. Johnson, 403 NJ Super. 125, 142 (App. Div. 2008); see also Roccamonte 174 NJ at 393-94. Courts may also consider other factors such as: For example, whether a party adversely relied on the promise, whether expressed or implied, or whether a party’s decision to move in with its partner was primarily motivated by financial assistance. Bayne, 403 NJ Super. at 141-42. “However, Palimony is not an economic substitute for potential opportunities have been lost or expectations that have not been met. ” I would. at 143.
Plaintiff’s additional requests for relief based on certain just theories – partial performance, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit, quasi-contract, e-tying, specific performance of the implied contract, fraud / misrepresentation and joint venture – also failed because of the Judges ruled that the defendant never made the plaintiff’s lifetime support promise, and the plaintiff was financially independent. Thus, the claims are just
based on alleged promises had no value. Too often I have seen these claims fail because the parties do not invoke the specific element of each of these pleas, but usually tie them to the alleged or implied promise and make them one and the same. In essence, all of the relief relies on the alleged promise as opposed to the conduct / facts necessary to establish each of the pleas. That apparently happened in this case.
Moving away from this case is that while there is still palimony and just remedies for pre-legal relationships, the facts must be there. A critical analysis of all facts is required prior to an expensive and potentially unsuccessful litigation.