Palimony refers to alimony-like support payments that are made by one unmarried partner to another upon splitting up after having previously lived together. The term “palimony” was actually made famous by the case involving actor Lee Marvin and his long-term partner. Palimony may be paid in monthly payments or as one lump-sum settlement, depending on what the parties to the action ultimately agree. To explore this concept, consider the following palimony definition.

Definition of Palimony


  1. The payment of support from one unmarried partner to another, upon breaking up after having lived together.


1975-1980        Americanism (pal + alimony)

What is Palimony

Palimony is the payment of support from one partner to another after an unmarried couple, who lives together, has broken up. Couples that live together for a certain period of time may be considered to be “common law married.” However, there are many states that do not recognize common law marriage, much less palimony.

Palimony concerns the splitting up of assets and property, determining who is entitled to what as a result of the relationship dissolving. The term “palimony” was actually invented in 1977 by Michelle Triola-Marvin’s attorney, Marvin Mitchelson, when she filed for alimony against her ex boyfriend, actor Lee Marvin. Michelle’s plea for alimony – which was specifically reserved for “spousal support” – was unsuccessful, even as her attorney made the case that the couple had lived together as though they were married for years.

In its ruling, the California court pointed out that the state had abolished common law marriage at the end of the 19th century, but that it did recognize relationship contracts between non-married partners. Michelle argued that Marvin had indeed promised to support her for the rest of her life, and had given her an interest in his property. Although the state would have recognized a contract or agreement, whether it was written or oral, it ruled that Michelle had not proven the existence of such a contract, and she walked away from the ordeal with nothing.

The laws surrounding palimony remain unclear today in many jurisdictions, just as whether each state recognizes common law marriage. Determining how the couple’s assets and debts should be divided when a common law relationship ends is similar to ending a marriage through divorce.

The parties are generally entitled to anything they personally owned before the marriage (or beginning of a common law relationship), but the issues of financial support, and division of money assets and debts is more complex. Creating a relationship contract in the beginning can help avoid the stress and sorry of arguing over these things down the road, should the relationship dissolve.

Palimony vs. Alimony

The main difference between alimony and palimony is that the former is awarded to couples who were previously married to each other, and the latter is awarded to parties who lived together as if married, but who were never actually married to one another. Alimony is also referred to as “spousal support,” or “spousal maintenance,” and it may be awarded by the court, or one partner can volunteer to pay alimony in connection with a marital settlement agreement, or a prenuptial agreement. Spouses are typically permitted to stop paying alimony when either of the spouses dies or remarries. In states that recognize palimony, the concept is the same as for alimony.

It is common for alimony to be paid in monthly installments until a certain threshold or trigger occurs (such as remarriage of the receiving party). This is a separate issue from the distribution of the parties’ assets and debts. Palimony, however, is commonly paid in a lump sum, and may include the value of certain property and other assets received.

Considerations in Determining Alimony or Palimony Amount

While the intentions of the parties in a marriage, regarding their obligations to one another, are clear, making it fairly each for the court to sort things out in many divorces. When it comes to couples who had a long-term relationship, and even lived together as though they were married, the court must actually delve into the intent of each of the parties in the relationship.

In any case, determining whether support is owed to one spouse by the other, and the amount of support that should be paid, there are several considerations for the court:

  • Length of the relationship – either from the date of marriage, or from the date the couple moved in together as though they were married.
  • Promise or intent – of one partner to financially support the other
  • Sacrifice – of one partner to further the education, career, or earning ability of the other partner (such as supporting the household while the other partner finishes college)
  • Income gap – difference between incomes of the parties (giving consideration to the sacrifice consideration above)

Palimony Laws

Palimony laws vary by state. The main concerns are whether or not states recognize palimony and, if so, if they have awarded it. The following list includes a handful of states and their rules insofar as palimony laws are concerned:

  • Arizona – Recognizes and has awarded palimony, however the award of palimony is rare in Arizona.
  • California – California has been listed as one of the three “most liberal” states when it comes to palimony laws. The other two on that list are Washington and Minnesota. California recognizes and awards palimony as appropriate, and the state takes into account both written and oral contracts in determining palimony.
  • Maryland – Maryland does not permit palimony actions, per se, but the state does recognize palimony-like actions. For instance, damages may be awarded in cases where promises to marry pregnant individuals have been broken. Maryland may also use oral contracts to divide property.
  • Minnesota – Back in 1980, Minnesota actually passed two statutes that were nicknamed the “anti-palimony statutes.” These statutes require that a written contract be entered into before palimony can be awarded. However, if one of the partners “believes” he or she is married, then that partner is referred to as a “putative spouse.” This means that the partner would be entitled to the same rights as someone who is legally married and seeking a divorce.
  • New York – The state of New York requires there to be a relationship contract of some sort in order to be awarded palimony. While oral contracts might be considered, they must be quite clear, with no ambiguity.
  • Rhode Island – Rhode Island actually supports a kind of palimony referred to as “unjust enrichment.” In these situations, one of the partners to the relationship can lay claim to property that he or she does not actually own.
  • Texas and Utah – These states do not recognize or award palimony. However, palimony attorneys are still available for consultations in Utah.

Property Rights and Obligations for Common Law Marriage

Typically, couples who live together, but who are not married (including couples that are engaged to be married), are not afforded the same protections and benefits that marriage provides, including those that are extended to couples during a divorce. Unmarried couples are not entitled to claim spousal support (otherwise known as alimony or maintenance), nor are they entitled to a portion of the “marital estate.” Despite the fact that they may have bought a house together, the couple is not married, and therefore does not have a “marital estate” to split up between them.

However, the courts do recognize the fact that more and more couples are living together out of wedlock, and make decisions related to finances and life events based solely on their trust in the relationship. Because of this, some courts will hold that couples are financially obligated to one another, despite the fact that they are not officially married. This is especially true for those couples that have lived together for a long period of time without making a formal agreement as to financial support in the event of a breakup.

This is where palimony comes in, because a court’s decision to award palimony depends greatly upon the original intentions of the parties when they entered into the relationship, as well as any oral promises the parties had made to each other in the past. The court will also consider the difference in incomes between the parties, as well as sacrifices one party has made in order to further the career of the other – and the resulting increased earning potential of that party as a result of the other party’s sacrifice.

Cohabitation Agreement

While most couples do not take advantage of this, attorneys often recommend that before a couple moves in together, they first enter into a written cohabitation agreement. A cohabitation agreement protects the parties from costs and litigation in the event that the relationship ultimately fails. With this agreement, the couple can better regulate their rights insofar as their personal property, finances, and debt. In addition, specifics of caring for children of the relationship can be worked out before there is a rift between the parties.

A cohabitation agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, in that the parties to a relationship are interested in protecting their assets and their rights in the event that they break up. The main difference, however, is that a prenuptial agreement anticipates a future marriage, and it does not actually go into effect until the parties actually say “I do.” A cohabitation agreement, on the other hand, is void if and when the parties to the agreement decide to make their relationship official and marry.

Palimony Examples Involving Celebrities

As may be expected, there have been quite a few examples of palimony involving celebrities and their significant others. Many celebrities choose not to marry, but rather to simply live with their significant others. When their relationships meet an end, many of these celebrities’ significant others decide to sue the celebrities to see if they are entitled to palimony.

Marvin v. Marvin

The most famous example of palimony in Hollywood involved actor Lee Marvin and his girlfriend, Michelle Triola, who had lived together for seven years before ultimately breaking up. After the breakup, Triola legally assumed Marvin’s last name, despite the fact that the two had never been married. She also claimed that Marvin had agreed to support her for the remainder of her life. The California Supreme Court ultimately ruled that Triola had not been able to prove that a contract had ever existed between herself and Marvin that would entitle her to any interest in his property.

The Court held that the common law rule would dictate the Marvins’ separation, which is to say that Triola was only able to take away from the relationship what she had brought into it, nothing more. The Court explained that while the state of California effectively outlawed common law marriage in 1896, California still recognized non-marital relationship contracts.

Such contracts can be obvious or implied, oral or written, but they must ultimately be able to be proven in a court of law. However, because Triola and Marvin had never agreed upon a contract during the entirety of their union, the Court ultimately ruled that Triola was therefore not eligible for any of Marvin’s money.

McCall v. Frampton

Another example of palimony involving celebrities was the case of rock musician Peter Frampton being sued by his ex-girlfriend, Penelope McCall, in 1976 after their breakup over an affair. McCall had sued for half of Frampton’s earnings during the five years that they were living together, as well as half of the value of Frampton’s 53-acre estate in Westchester County. McCall claimed to have given up her profession as a rock promoter to instead dedicate herself to furthering Frampton’s success, and that she did so at the exact point when he reached superstar status.

McCall claimed she would do everything for Frampton, from picking out his clothes to inspiring his hit songs, and that as successful as he was, they were being successful together. The judge ultimately ruled that Frampton and McCall had never “held themselves out to the public as husband and wife,” and therefore had never intended to get married at all. The judge dismissed McCall’s complaint on the grounds that if the complaint were not dismissed, then the court would otherwise be condoning adultery. The case went on to set precedent in New York.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Common Law Marriage – A union wherein a couple lives together for a period of time and acts as if they were married, but they never participate in a formal ceremony or obtain a marriage license.
  • Prenuptial Agreement – A written contract between two people made prior to marriage which specifies the terms of possession of assets, control of property, future earnings, and potential division of marital assets in the event of a divorce.