The goal of spousal support in a divorce or separation case is to provide supplemental income to a spouse who was financially dependent on a higher-earning spouse. When two people live together, they often become dependent on one another for financial support. Taking this away can unfairly strip lower-earning spouses of the quality of life they enjoyed. In California, the same rule can apply to a couple that has lived together for a long time, even if they never married.
Pals + Alimony = Palimony
Palimony is not a legal term. It is an unofficial term to describe spousal support, or alimony, for unmarried couples in California (pals). In a typical divorce case, the California courts may award alimony to one spouse if the other spouse’s income is enough to maintain both spouses’ quality of living during the marriage. The courts will look at many factors to determine a spouse’s eligibility for spousal support.
- Both spouses’ assets and incomes
- Any marketable skills of the recipient
- The recipient’s unemployment due to supporting the family or household
- The recipient financially supporting the other spouse’s education or career
- The ability of the supporting spouse to pay alimony
- Both parties’ needs based on standard of living during the marriage
- Duration of the marriage
- Both parties’ age and health status
If one spouse is eligible for alimony, the other spouse will have to pay a certain amount (either in a lump sum or regular payments) until the court orders an end to the agreement. Most spousal support agreements are temporary, and last until the recipient can get a job or remarries. Some cases involving particularly long marriages, however, may result in permanent alimony orders. California’s rules for alimony may apply to unmarried couples in certain situations.
Eligibility for Palimony
No spouse – married or unmarried – will automatically qualify for spousal support in California. Instead, the courts will examine each case and award alimony on a case-by-case basis. The courts may consider one spouse’s eligibility for financial support in any split, if the claimant has a viable claim to the other spouse’s support. The California Supreme Court case of Marvin v. Marvin created a precedent for the courts awarding spousal support for unmarried couples.
In Marvin v. Marvin, Michele Triola filed a claim against longtime boyfriend, actor Lee Marvin, in 1976. Her claim stated that Marvin promised to financially support her if she gave up her career to become a homemaker for him. After they broke up, Triola filed a claim for half of Marvin’s earnings during their relationship, even though they never married and she did not have the agreement in writing. The court ruled in Triola’s favor, awarding her palimony.
Marvin v. Marvin established that unmarried spouses can receive spousal support, if they can prove their eligibility. The party filing for support must show that the couple established a contract, either written or implied, and that the contract makes the petitioner eligible for spousal support after a split. Note, however, that today the California courts generally will not rule in favor of a petitioner unless he or she has a written palimony agreement, or cohabitation agreement.
How to Obtain Palimony in California
If you believe you are eligible for palimony after the end of a nonmarital relationship, contact an attorney. Your lawyer will help you file a claim for spousal support to help you adjust to living on your own. In general, to receive spousal support you will need to either qualify as a putative spouse or have proof of a private agreement with your spouse about shared property.
Couples who have cohabited for a long time, have written proof of arrangements, and have shared bank accounts have the best odds of qualifying for palimony in California. Hiring a lawyer can help you fight for this type of support after a long-term relationship.