Palimony in New Jersey

Palimony is financial support that results from a promise made by one unmarried person to provide support to another when a long-term relationship between the two people ends. Palimony is generally awarded to a party who, in reliance upon an express or implied promise that the partner would support him or her for the rest of his or her life, did not work during the relationship and was financially dependent on the other person. Palimony claims come before the New Jersey courts when the promise of support is broken, for example, when the party promising to pay the support for the other fails to do so.

1979-2010 Oral Agreements for Palimony in New Jersey Allowed (Kozlowski v. Kozlowski)

From 1979 until 2010 palimony claims were allowed in New Jersey based upon an oral agreement for financial support, whether express or implied. This is based on the New Jersey Supreme Court opinion in the case Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378 (1979), which deemed palimony agreements between nonmarried couples—whether written or oral, express or implied—enforceable.

The Kozlowski case involved an immigrant woman, Irma, who met a well-to-do businessman, Thaddeus, in 1962 when she was 48 years old and married with children. The pair struck up a romantic relationship, though he too was married with children. The new couple left their spouses and moved in together where they lived as a family for 15 years, though they never married. The relationship ended and Irma sought financial support from Thaddeus.

The Supreme Court in Kozlowski held that a promise of lifetime support by one cohabitant to another in a marital-like relationship would be enforced, if one of the partners was induced to cohabit by such a promise. The court based its decision on contract principals, determining that Thaddeus breached his contract with Irma and that she was entitled to a financial judgment.

2010 – New Jersey Palimony Laws Change (NJ.S.A § 25:1-5(h))

The Palimony laws in New Jersey were consistent with Kozlowski until 2010 when the New Jersey legislature amended its statute of frauds in order to include palimony. NJ.S.A. § 25:1-5(h). The statute of frauds lists certain contracts that must be in writing in order to be enforceable, so under the amended statute of frauds, in order to be awarded palimony in New Jersey, a couple must have a signed written agreement for such support. The statute goes a step farther and requires that both parties must get independent advice of counsel about the agreement. This is the current law in New Jersey.

After the legislature amended its statute of frauds, the question arose whether the writing and counsel requirement applied retroactively. For example, suppose a couple was in a relationship prior to 2010, and the relationship ended after 2010. If they did not have a written agreement for financial support, did the amended statute of frauds bar an award of palimony?

New Jersey Palimony Law Amendment Not Retroactive (Maeker v. Ross)

The New Jersey Supreme Court answered this question in the 2014 case Maeker v. Ross, 219 N.J. 565 (2014), holding that the amended statute of frauds did not apply retroactively to oral agreements that predated the amendment. In other words, an oral agreement made before the effective date (January 18, 2010) of the 2010 amendment to the statute of frauds is enforceable. The Maeker court stated that “Couples entering into oral palimony agreements in reliance on Kozlowski did not have to anticipate that the Legislature might, in the indefinite future, impose writing and counsel requirements that would invalidate their agreements.”

If you have any questions about palimony, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a free consultation.

Sources

Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378 (1979)
NJ.S.A. § 25:1-5(h)
Maeker v. Ross, 219 N.J. 565 (2014)

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