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Financial Support for Unmarried Couples, NJ Palimony Laws

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

In a fascinating 2011 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, it was found that, at the time, only 51% of all adults in the United States were married. Compared to 1960, where it is estimated that almost 72% of all United States adults were married, it is clear that as our society progresses, people are getting married much less, and when they do so, they are doing so at older ages than they did previously.

However, one complication that is certainly becoming more prevalent as more and more adults choose to cohabitate rather than marry is the issue of financial support if the relationship should end. While a married individual would have the protection of an alimony settlement in the case of divorce, individuals who are in a committed relationship but remain unmarried do not necessarily have this same kind of financial protection.

So what does this mean when it comes to individuals securing the financial support they have been traditionally dependent on should their relationship end? Let’s take a look.

What Is Palimony and How Does Palimony Work in Morris County?

The legal concept of palimony was originally created thanks to the infamous 1970 lawsuit brought by actor Lee Marvin’s former girlfriend against the actor when he ended their long-term relationship, and stopped financially supporting his former girlfriend. The deciding court found that there had been a promise of financial support between the couple, and ruled that even though the couple was unmarried, Lee Marvin was still obligated to continue providing a similar level of financial support, a.k.a. palimony.

For many years since then, palimony claims have been the primary way that partners involved in serious, “marital-type” relationships could obtain the financial support they had become dependent upon during the course of their relationship if their relationship ended.  However, in 2010, New Jersey amended its palimony laws, requiring that a written agreement of financial support, usually referred to as a cohabitation agreement, exist between the unmarried couple in order for a palimony claim to be filed in the case that the relationship ends.  This left many wondering what options would remain for unmarried individuals who have become financially dependent on their partners, and how any written palimony agreement they may reach would be impacted in the case that the couple later decides to marry.

Palimony Agreements and Constructive Trust, Madison Family Law Firm

Thanks to the 2016 New Jersey Supreme Court decision in the case of Thieme v Aucioin-Thieme, we now have a much clearer idea of how palimony agreements can affect divorce settlement agreements if the couple who entered into the palimony agreement later decides to marry, and potentially an alternative means for an unmarried individual to seek financial compensation for promises made should their relationship end.  In this case, the husband (then the boyfriend), promised to share an expected bonus from the sale of his employer’s business with his, at the time, girlfriend. This agreement was made verbally, and in writing in the form of a palimony agreement. However, when the couple married, then later divorced, the family court awarded only a small portion of this bonus to the woman, stating she was not entitled to the portion of this bonus earned prior to their marriage.

On appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court found that while the family court was correct to not include the assets earned prior to the marriage as part of equitable distribution of the marital assets, the wife was still entitled to share in the entirety of the bonus due to the written promise made in their palimony agreement, under the concept of “constructive trust.”  A constructive trust is an extremely complex legal concept, but it essentially boils down to “people may be the titled owner of certain properties or assets, but only do so by being disloyal or through a breach of trust.”  This means that individuals involved in a marital-type relationship may now have an alternative means to seek financial compensation should their relationship end other than through a palimony agreement.

Contact Our Morristown Palimony and Constructive Trust Attorneys Today

At the law office of Jacobs Berger, our attorneys have extensive experience handling family law and divorce issues of all kinds for clients in towns across New Jersey and Morris County, including Madison, Randolph, Denville, Hanover, Florham Park, Morris Township, and Morristown.

Whether you are an unmarried individual ending a marital-style relationship, considering a divorce, or currently going through a divorce, the unique approach of our law firm can help you to resolve many of the legal, financial and familial issues you may face during such times in a constructive, negotiation-focused manner. We believe this kind of approach will leave you and your family in a much healthier place financially and emotionally than a more litigation-focused approach would. That being said, if negotiation is not yielding the kind of results you need and deserve, we are always prepared to aggressively defend your rights and interests in a court of law, and ensure that any settlements you reach are fair to you, and properly account for you and your family’s unique needs and concerns.

To speak with our legal team today in a strategic planning session regarding a palimony or cohabitation agreement, a potential constructive trust matter, a divorce or any other kind of family law concern, please contact us online, or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 710-4366.

Contact Our Morristown Attorneys Today

At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.