Palimony is a term that many people have likely heard before, but few people – aside from those who work in a legal profession- would be able to define it. While essentially a form of alimony, palimony differs from alimony in many important ways, both in terms of legal definition and in how palimony and alimony are applied in real-world cases. Popularized by many high-profile Hollywood separation cases, palimony nonetheless remains a widely misunderstood term. To help clear some of that confusion, here are three surprising facts about palimony.
Palimony is not a legal term
The most important thing to understand about palimony is that you won’t find it mentioned in any legal code. That’s because palimony is a term that was invented by journalists reporting on salacious celebrity breakups rather than a concept that was formed by legislators or judges. Palimony simply describes a situation where an unmarried couple splits up and the circumstances of their case lead to property being divided in an alimony-like manner.
Palimony can still be legally enforced
While not being a legal term in its own right, courts can still enforce what is popularly known as palimony if the court determines that an implied contract existed between the couple. This implied contract often happens when one partner gives up income opportunities in order to care for the home or family. For example, if one partner decided to pursue his or her career and the other partner decided to focus on maintaining the couple’s home and raising their children, then an implied contract, which could lead to property being divided if the couple breaks up, may exist.
Palimony can be avoided
Because palimony only applies to unmarried couples, it tends to be very controversial and highly subjective in how it is applied. Marriage grants certain legal protections, including provisions surrounding property division in the event of a divorce or separation, that simply do not exist for unmarried couples. Proving that an implied contract exists, for example, is extremely difficult since an implied contract, by its nature, is unwritten and thus difficult to verify. Nonetheless, couples who are in a relationship can avoid the ambiguity and uncertainty raised by palimony by drafting a written agreement. A written agreement that is drafted with the assistance of a lawyer can serve as a contract between both partners to help establish how property will be divided in case the relationship ends. Essentially, this written agreement works similarly to a prenuptial agreement, except that the parties to the contract are unmarried. As with other contracts, however, such a written agreement can still be challenged in court, thus it is not a watertight defense against palimony.
With many couples nowadays living in long-term, co-dependent relationships and yet forgoing marriage, the role of palimony is bound to take on increased significance. Courts and legislatures are still struggling to determine to what extent long-term romantic partners have rights that are similar to the rights enjoyed by married spouses. The debate and controversy surrounding palimony and alimony are central to helping resolve that struggle.