Palimony 101: Support for Unmarried Cohabitants

The norm regarding relationships and marriage is changing in major states across the US. Some relationships, associations, and contractual situations that were considered taboo as recently as 15 years ago have taken their place in the legal structure of states and countries. Cohabitation, or living together without marriage, is one of such relationships.

According to US census data of 2012, about 7.8 million couples are cohabitating. While the idea of living together without the strings and implications of a legal marriage may be an exciting idea, the harsh reality is that a breakup of cohabitating individuals can lead to several issues associated with traditional matrimony.

A prime example of this is the process of palimony. In a legal divorce, alimony is the support paid following the separation of a marriage. Palimony provides that same sort of support following a separation or end of a relationship between two unmarried individuals. Several states have come up with laws guiding palimony payments, whether common law marriages exist or not. Cohabitation agreements have also become the easiest way for unmarried partners to have a stake in the relationship.

What is Palimony?

Palimony sounds a lot like alimony, and they function in much the same way. While alimony is the financial support issued by one spouse to another following a divorce, palimony is support issued by one partner to the other between two unmarried people living together as a couple. Like alimony, palimony is awarded as a lump sum to the lower-earning partner.

Coined from the terms “pal” and “alimony,” the term “palimony” originates from the 1976 case of Marvin v. Marvin case. In the proceedings, Michelle Triola Marvin claimed to be entitled to half of the properties and income her long-time partner, Lee Marvin, had acquired during their relationship. She reasoned that if she hadn’t supported him as a homemaker, he wouldn’t have been able to pursue his acting career. This suit wasn’t successful, but it did establish a basis for settlements that involve the end of a long-term marital or non-marital relationship.

Preparing for Palimony with a Cohabitation Agreement

Due to the increase in the number of unmarried couples living together, there has been a rise in the number of legal issues from these kinds of relationships. Unmarried couples can still live together as much as they want without having any legal rights to their partner’s properties. But when children and assets are added to the mix, a broken cohabitation relationship can result in legal disputes. Thus, it’s best for unmarried couples to enter into a written cohabitation agreement before they start living together as a couple.

Among many concerns, issues like how finances and properties will be split, who will provide income, and what rights each partner has in the case of children should be addressed by this agreement. While it is impossible for the cohabitation agreement to address all potential issues that may result from the relationship, it is important for it to address major issues that might cause contention in the case of a separation or breakup.

The issue of death should also be addressed, since property and assets will not automatically go to the other partner like they do in a marriage. It is therefore important that unmarried couples have their wills drafted, clearly explaining how they want their assets shared upon their death.

The subject of individual rights may be a touchy one to discuss with one’s partner. However, even if you are hopeful that a relationship will survive, it is safer for you and your family to take the necessary precautions by entering into a written agreement with your partner. In fact, this cohabitation agreement can impact the future of your property, assets, and support.

Consideration in the Cohabitation Agreement

When drafting a cohabitation agreement, it is important to understand the concept of “consideration” and how it can affect your agreement. To put it simply, the cohabitation agreement lays out all the important aspects regarding each partner’s property, assets, and support. Sacrifices are necessary to come to the agreement, especially when trying to work out a solution. A sacrifice on one partner’s behalf may become a benefit to the other, and vice versa. This exchange of benefits and detriments is what is known as “consideration.”

For example, one partner might agree to provide financial support to the other partner when cohabitating in exchange for a service or gift from their significant other. Such a service might include being a homemaker, running parts of the couple’s business, or something similar. The amount of time, investment, and finances exchanged within the relationship are all parts of the consideration in a cohabitation agreement.

Consideration is vital to enforcing the cohabitation agreement, ensuring a fair exchange of services or benefits – or, at least, whatever the partners determine as fair. Unfortunately, it can pose problems legally when determining palimony. Certain services, for example, may not be a valid consideration and can affect the amount of palimony afforded to a partner. In fact, many states consider sexual services an invalid consideration, since exchanging sex for money is illegal in most territories.

Most of these legal issues surrounding consideration can be avoided by simply creating a thorough cohabitation agreement that outlines sexual expectations as well as other benefits derived from each spouse. The entire contract will remain valid as long as there are additional agreement considerations. In sum, unmarried couples should absolutely create a thorough, all-encompassing cohabitation agreement, with special regard to any consideration discrepancies that may arise in a palimony case.

Filing for Palimony

If you’ve taken the necessary precautions and find yourself at the end of your relationship, you can consider filing for palimony. First, make sure palimony is legally recognized in your state – more than twenty states in the US have passed it as a form of separation support, and more are bound to follow.

Next, evidence of the following must be provided:

• A written and signed agreement of continuous financial support between the unmarried couple
• Both parties’ independent legal advice before the agreement was signed

Factors Considered when Determining the Palimony Award

Palimony varies in amount, running into hundreds and thousands of dollars. The amount of a palimony claim can be affected by a number of factors, including:

• Difference between incomes of both partners
• Ability of one separating partner to support the receiving partner
• Number of years together between both partners in the relationship
• Standard of living and quality of lives during the relationship
• Agreements or promises of financial support
• Age, physical, and health conditions of both partners
• Sacrifices made by one of the partners to enable the other partner to focus on his/her career, further his/her education, and improve his/her learning ability
• The length of time it will take for the recipient partner to become self-sufficient (by training, obtaining a degree, or otherwise)
• Whose primary responsibility it is to take care of the children (if applicable), and the duties of that role

Palimony Support and Property

The facts and factors involved in palimony support or property will determine the ability of a person to obtain it. A number of social and economic reasons may inform the decision for couples to live together before marriage, including balancing career with having a partner, the price of housing, and testing the relationship before deciding to get married – among other reasons.

The legal implications of cohabitation do not change regardless of the reason behind each couple’s cohabitation. Family law attorneys usually provide advice regarding palimony support and property.

It is common to find divorce attorneys advising their clients that the support and property entitlements awarded to unmarried couples differ, regardless of the length of time they cohabitate. However, only when unmarried couples go into a cohabitation agreement with one another will they have the rights to palimony support and property. As long as the cohabitation agreement between the unmarried cohabitant is based on legal and valid “consideration,” it is enforceable.

Palimony and Child Support

Palimony specifically involves the partners in a relationship. It is usually excluded from child support because the expenses used in raising a child – such as school supplies, consumables, medical expenses, and other daily expenses – are usually insufficient to cater for the needs of the child’s caretaker, alongside the caretaker’s career advancement. Child support is therefore paid separately.

The separation of child support from palimony can sometimes be advantageous for the paying partner, because palimony is tax deductible, while child support isn’t.

Can a Palimony Order Be Modified?

There are penalties and legal consequences for violating palimony orders such as contempt of court, because palimony orders are final and legally binding on both parties. It is, however, possible to get a palimony order changed or modified due to a number of reasons, such as:

• The rise of additional needs for any of the partners due to newer situations
• The loss of desire to receive additional support by one of the separated partners
• Period of financial or other kind of hardship experienced by the paying partner

It is important to file a court request for the palimony order to be changed. This has to be done with the court that issued the original award, which will then re-evaluate the situations and make necessary adjustments if need be. Adjustments may include a re-analysis of property values, increase or decrease in the amount paid monthly, change in schedule of payment, and other adjustments as deemed fit.

Is a Lawyer Needed to Help with a Palimony Award?

Many different types of legal issues are involved in awarding palimony. You should contact only a qualified family lawyer in your area. The role of your lawyer is to create, negotiate, and review the terms and conditions included in the payment of support. Your lawyer can also make a case for you in the presence of a judge if there is a need to contest or modify an existing agreement.


In a non-marital relationship, consider having a written and signed cohabitation agreement that clearly explains your position on how you intend to share various properties, as well as the kind of financial support you intend to receive after a breakup. By taking this precaution, you’ll set yourself up for palimony support should your relationship end, and also build a level of equal trust with your partner by being open and honest about the future.

By pursuing legal advice as part of your precautions, you’ll be well on your way to protecting your financial interests and fairly dividing your assets and finances in a cohabitation palimony case. If you do find yourself pursuing palimony or getting involved in a palimony situation, talking to an experienced family lawyer can help smooth over the process and fight for what you deserve when your relationship ends.

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