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What is Palimony?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 16, 2024

In the United States, palimony is a court-ordered financial settlement between two former lovers who, though never married, cohabitated for a significant period of time. While similar to alimony in principle, there are distinct differences between the two. The desire to cohabitate without marrying has been a growing trend since the 1960s, and many people feel their relationship "does not need a piece of paper" to be validated. Others choose to cohabitate to see if the relationship can work before taking the plunge into marriage, and same-gender couples cannot legally marry at all in many places.

For some, the institute of marriage is seen as a legal entanglement — an unnecessary complication of red tape and intertwined assets that only need to be untangled when the relationship ends. With a marriage-failure rate around 50%, many people who have already gone through an expensive divorce swear off marriage. Avoiding marriage doesn't preclude one from legal problems, however, and unfortunately, relationships that start out more than amicable can end up less than civil. Misunderstandings about cohabitation that were never talked about, agreed upon, or clearly understood by both parties can lead to a palimony suit, in which one partner asserts that he or she is owed a financial settlement from the other.

Though laws differ in each state, presented here are some general key factors that might play into the court's decision to award or deny a settlement:

  • Longevity of the relationship.
  • An implied understanding between partners that one would financially provide for the other for the rest of his or her life.
  • Spoken promises between partners that can be substantiated or corroborated.
  • Written financial agreements, if any exist.
  • Ability for the plaintiff to support himself or herself.
  • Sacrifices made by one partner to support the other by way of giving up a career path to take care of the home or children.
  • Sacrifices made by one partner to put the other partner through school so that he or she could earn a professional degree.
  • Disparity between incomes.

Unlike alimony, palimony settlements usually involve a lump sum paid at once, versus permanent monthly payments. A further difference is that it does not divide "common assets" — the legal owner of any assets gets those assets without question, even if the partner has paid into them and considers them common property.

In 1982, Scott Thorson brought the first publicized palimony suit against entertainer Liberace (1919-1987) after a cohabitation of five years. Thorson asked for $113 million US Dollars (USD) and was awarded $95,000 USD in the settlement. The next famous suit came in 1991, filed by Judy Nelson. Nelson sued tennis champion Martina Navratilova, concluding an eight-year relationship that ended poorly. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

In order to avoid being on either end of a palimony suit, some legal experts recommend couples take precautions. A cohabitation agreement is a good start, and it should cover expectations and arrangements so that, in the eventuality of a breakup, both parties are protected. While an informal handwritten draft signed by both parties is better than no document, some legal experts suggest each partner retain a lawyer and allow the lawyers to hammer out the cohabitation agreement. This serves to protect both parties because it cannot be claimed later that the best interests of each were not properly protected.

Other advice includes putting both partners' names on common property and assets so that they can be divided fairly or even inherited. This is particularly important in same-gender relationships in which couples might cohabitate for a lifetime but not be able to marry. If the home, for example, is in the name of a partner that dies, the house automatically gets awarded to the relatives of the deceased, even if the surviving partner spent a lifetime helping to pay for it.

While marriage may be undesirable or even unavailable to some, it does provide many automatic legal protections. Before considering cohabitation, it is best for couples to seek legal advice from a professional lawyer versed in family law. This should help to ensure both parties have protection from potential palimony entanglements.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon297154 — On Oct 15, 2012

I am so confused about what to do. In 1991, I was married for the first time ever, at 29 years old. I had a great job making good money, as well as great benefits for my two sons and myself. I knew my own gut feelings on the marriage subject and how I could count on what I was providing for my family, without any help from someone else. I took the ongoing advice of others and married my boyfriend (not the father of my sons), And disaster followed. It went from bad, to totally bizarre. I was so tormented by this misfit of a person and the toll it was taking on the kids. Then I find out he bisexual and that was it.

Now it is 1996 and he is out of my life financially, but not without still coming around to torment me some more after I had left my job to help him and his family start their own ironworks business. I found myself with three jobs to make ends meet. Two years later I met Jim, and he was so persistent, with a great work ethic, and looks, and many other fine attributes -- or so it appeared. After dating him for about two years, he convinced me to marry him and that would be great because of his health insurance, as I had none at the time. I was reluctant, but he did all of the paperwork to obtain the marriage license. We were married in 2000 and I worked two jobs then and he bought me (so he said) a house in 2000 in a town quite far away from where we had been living. It took me two years to move into this house.

I found out his family members occupied five bedrooms and three baths I was so horrified to know that this arrangement would be the cornerstone of my increasingly downward spiraling life. He was physically, verbally, horrifically abusive -- so much so that he got felony probation of five years in lieu of six months in prison for domestic violence. I had been so wrapped up in the constant turmoil of his ongoing needs, as well as those of his four children and his mother, who is still collecting every cent she can on every payday, and driving the new car he bought her before leaving me penniless, and without the car he was still paying on for me. It was the only car he ever bought me. We always had mine.

He filed taxes from 2000 to 2011 as head of household and listed me as his wife (it has my job title as homemaker) and that is a huge understatement. I did everything for that man, and he never lifted a cup, or plate. He was waited on hand and foot. And I was faithful and dedicated to our marriage, so much so that the other marriage had not crossed my mind since I had paid to divorce the first one and did just that, or so I believed, only to find out the divorce never went through.

My sister is a paralegal and I truly believed in her ability when she said it was done. That is what I believed until just before he moved out from our apartment in California to Illinois to live with his kids and I signed away my half of the annuity fund notary and all. I told him of my discovery online, that I had checked for the divorce record and found none. He is so mean and I will not give up. I will not give up.

By anon274999 — On Jun 15, 2012

States are starting to ban palimony because, while a boondoggle for trial lawyers, it is cleaning out people financially with unprovable oral agreements.

By anon254719 — On Mar 14, 2012

Palimony is a nightmare that makes lawyers rich and bankrupts estates. It was never enacted by legislation, but came into being though judicial activism due to the potty training done to judges in Family Court by the feminists.

My mother, a factory worker, couldn't evict her boyfriend and sell her home to pay for medical care because of this. She died. Idiot feminists enacted prohibition.

By anon232826 — On Dec 02, 2011

I am leaving after seven years of living with a man in his house. I never paid for anything other than half of the electric bill and some groceries and all my own needs.

I leave with nothing but my own things, unfortunately. I would like to suggest that, if you live together for any length of time, to make sure that you can financially take care of yourself and not be dependent on anyone, or you should get married legally. Then you have rights!

By anon126443 — On Nov 12, 2010

I have lived with my boyfriend for seven years, in my home where i paid for everything. We bought a home together, he changed his mind and i quit claimed the home to him to sell.

He was on my medical insurance on and off since 1996 when we first started living together, he has always come to live where i live, never got rid of his po box and never put his name on any utilities.

Do I have a right to alimony, or common law marriage rights? I am suffering financial and mental distress since he abandoned me, also he was emotionally and verbally abusive.

By anon124587 — On Nov 06, 2010

I have been in a relationship with a man since 1998. I lived in Utah at the time and he lived in California. He bought a house in CA for me and my daughter to move into with him. In 2000 we had a son together.

In 2002, I moved out because he was emotionally abusive and I cried all the time. Then the landlords gave me a 60 day notice to move out because they were selling the place. I couldn't afford to move so, he said I could move back in as a "roommate".

After six months I moved back out because he really didn't want me a "roommate" but, rather a roommate with fringe benefits and I wasn't willing to play his games. I moved back out until June 07. He asked me to move back in because I was still struggling financially. I said under one condition, we make our relationship work.

Well, we have had three great years but, over the past several months he has blown up at me and told me to move out. He quits speaking to me for weeks at a time, puts me through all sorts of anguish and stress about having to move. The house is in his name and when things are good he refers to it as "our" house. When things are not so good he calls it "his house" and I have to leave. It's putting our son through a lot of stress as well.

I'm the beneficiary on his life insurance, and to the house if he dies. He has bought me two rings over the years. The second one was two years ago and cost approx $20,000. There is no common law in CA and we are not Registered Domestic partners. Can I file for palimony?

By anon83169 — On May 09, 2010

I have been with a man for six and 1/2 years. He moved his daughter and baby in and 15 year old son in a year after we moved in together. He owns a 2005 F150 truck that I drove around to work and whatnot. He also has a 2004 Harley Davidson that we refinanced and I paid on until this last year.

He quit two jobs, while I worked two full time jobs for nine months.

Finally, after two 1/2 years the daughter moved out and we bought a house, A year later we split up. I left because I have a nine year old boy who did not deserve to listen to his yelling. He told me he would give me $6000 plus give my daughter $1500 for I can have her car and pay for a U-Haul so I can move back to my home state. And I would sign over the house. when I asked him if he had the papers drawn up, he said no and that I was just going to sign the house over and he would only give me $3000 to get out.

Do I have any rights? I gave six years of doing for him. Am I to lose everything, not have a home or a car for my son and me? There has to be some law in Florida that he needs to supply us with a proper amount so we can start our lives over. I think this is why to many good ladies are on welfare because men seem to kick us around like rag dolls.

Just because they make more money they have all rights. I did everything in this relationship to make it work. Help find an answer!

By anon70543 — On Mar 14, 2010

I have lived with my fiance for over nine years. We just parted at the end of last year.

He has given me a support check for our son, which is nowhere near what he would have to pay had I filed for child support. Neighbors saw us as a married couple, he had planned to marry. He had told always told me and assured me that I would never have to worry about being taken care of. He told me he would always take care of me when we were together.

However, since our split, I can barely get money from him. I am seriously thinking of filing for palimony. I don't want to go that route, however he's giving me no choice. I think I have a good case for palimony but I'm not sure. What do you think?

By anon32831 — On May 27, 2009

I have a crazy story for you. My husband told me 2 weeks before our wedding in NY that we couldn't get our marriage license yet because he wasn't sure if he was still married to his ex-wife from 20yrs before.

He told me that he spoke to a judge that told him if he looked for the lady for 3 months and couldn't find her he would grant us a marriage license.

When he told me he had supposedly been looking for her for about 2 1/2 months. He assured me and my pastor that we’d have our marriage license a couple weeks after the wedding.

We had a *huge* wedding in NY in 2008.

It has been 8 months and still no license!! Every time I bring up the subject he gets irate.

So, I got my own private investigator. We haven’t found any records of a marriage but we did find the " ex wife". I have the address and phone number for her now and it only took me a week.

I have refrained from giving him this information because I don't know what he'll do...I'm scared of what he’ll do.

Do I have any rights at all? I rely completely on him for my well-being. I’m very fearful that everything will be taken away and I'll be left on the street.

Ever since the wedding he's slowly been pushing me out of his life...I don't think he wants me around at all. We have a house in the suburbs and a condo in the city where I stay. He won’t let me stay overnight at the house anymore.

He did tell me that he put a substantial amount of money in a trust for me but I don't know what to believe anymore.

Anyone have suggestions?

By anon11888 — On Apr 25, 2008

A common law marriage is only formed when both a man and a woman agree that they are to be married. They must have the mental capacity to assent and both parties must have a meeting of the minds to understand that they are married to each other forever in an exclusive relationship. Once they do this they are married if it all took place in a jurisdiction that recognizes CL marriage. In order to prove that this agreement took place in the court the couple can show evidence that they had a reputation in the community as being married and that the parties held themselves out as married. Here the couple never agreed they were married, in fact here this chick admits they said they discussed possibly getting married one day. Further it seems hubby has done a good job not giving any impression to the outside world that they are married. He is likely doing it on purpose to screw this chick!

By olittlewood — On Jan 17, 2008


i don't think Tennessee allows common-law marriage anymore. i'd suggest getting the advice of a good lawyer to protect yourself. if your boyfriend is a good one, he'd take out a life insurance policy with you as beneficiary to provide you with support should he pass away before you, or have a will that leaves his assets to you and your son. also, ask him if he'd be willing to put you on the deed to the house, especially if you've been contributing to the mortgage payments. i personally don't understand how a man can have and raise a child with a woman, have her living under his roof, cooking his meals, doing his laundry, sleeping in his bed, but isn't willing to protect her financially.

By anon7067 — On Jan 17, 2008

I have been living with my boyfriend for 10 years now in Tennessee. Through the years statements such as "Maybe we'll get married after our children are of age." My son is now 21 and on his own. We still haven't so much as gotten engaged. Our income is widely different and of course my being the female he has always made between double to triple my income. I have been with him half of his career of 20 years. His finances being what it is he is better off materially and legally. We moved into the home we live in together even though it is in his name solely. In the 10 years there has been another dwelling that is now completely paid for. Collector vintage cars, appliances, etc... What am I to do? If something should happen to him and since most everything has been paid for in cash or cash payments, could I sue the estate? How are my rights protected in Tennessee?

By anon1570 — On Jun 06, 2007

With the retiring of Bob Barker from The Price is Right, we were discussing what we thought was a famous scandle that he "nipped in the bud" by going public. Wasn't he being sued for palimony by a live-in girlfriend? As we recall, Bob answered bluntly on Network News, "What relationship were we involved in? WE WERE HAVING SEX!" It was the most blunt and honest response to "blackmail" I had ever heard. Was the suit not dismissed, in part, due to his frankness and refusal to bow to extorsion?

By anon405 — On Apr 24, 2007

I have a client who had a woman living with him in his home for about a year or two. The relationship went downhill and he paid her $ 100,000. to leave, all done through his lawyer. My question is...is this palimony, and is it tax deductible to the payor and taxable to the receipient?

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