NEW JERSEY SUPERIOR COURT CASE ANALYZES PALIMONY LAWS
The Superior Court of New Jersey recently agreed to hear a case questioning when contracts allowing for palimony payments are upheld. Palimony, a claim for financial support between a couple that was not married, has been recognized in New Jersey since 1979. In the past, both oral and written agreements were enforced.
This changed in 2010, when an Amendment to the Statute of Frauds was passed. This Amendment essentially states that for a palimony agreement to be enforced, it must be in writing, signed by the party promising to make payment and that both parties must have received legal counsel prior to entering the agreement.
The most recent case to question how this Amendment will be applied is Maeker v. Ross. This case begins when the couple started dating in 1998. The couple decided to jointly lease a home with an option to purchase. The relationship ended in 2011. During their time together, Maeker did not work outside the home. Instead, she cared for their home while Ross offered financial support. Ms. Maeker claims that during their relationship Mr. Ross repeatedly promised to take care of her and offer lifetime support. Ms. Maeker is seeking continued support set at $6,000 a month.
Since the couple did not marry, Ms. Maeker could not make claims for alimony or support payments found during a divorce proceeding. Instead, Beverly Maeker attempted to receive payments by claiming that she and Mr. Ross had a palimony agreement.
New Jersey does not allow for common law marriage. As a result, those who cohabitate are not considered married under the law no matter how long they live together. Instead, to receive continued support after the relationship ends a palimony claim must be made.
The law around palimony claims has changed in recent years. In 2010, an Amendment was passed outlining a specific set of requirements needed before the agreement could be enforced. This Amendment was passed with the intention that it apply to future agreements. The legislature did not intend for the law to retroactively cancel palimony payments that were already being made. In this case, Ms. Maeker argues that since the agreement was initially made before the Amendment was passed in 2010, it should not apply. As a result, she argued that the court should not require the agreement be completed in writing and signed by Mr. Ross.
Ultimately, the court did not agree. Instead, they found that palimony agreements, as matters of contract law, are enforced at the time the promise is broken. Since the promise by Mr. Ross to support Ms. Maeker was not broken until 2011, the requirements within the 2010 Amendment apply.
Although the court did not support the issuance of palimony payments in this case, courts do support agreements for palimony payments, depending on the facts of each case. Courts take various factors into consideration, including the reason behind the end of the relationship. For example, New Jersey courts have enforced agreements of support between couples against the estate of a deceased partner.
If your relationship ended and you feel you are entitled to palimony payments, contact an experienced New Jersey family law attorney to discuss your situation and the likelihood of a successful palimony lawsuit. Although suits for palimony are matters of contract law, it is appropriate to file these suits in family court.