A California divorce attorney coined the word palimony in 1976. They used it in a case where Michelle Triola Marvin sued her ex-boyfriend Lee Marvin, claiming they had a verbal agreement to evenly split all earnings and property.

While the case was eventually dismissed by the California Supreme Court, it created a new form of asset division.

Palimony (alimony for “pals”) is like spousal support for unmarried cohabitating couples. The state has allowed assets to be allocated to a former partner if a court finds a breakup significantly impacts their quality of life.

With couples forgoing marriage, this has become a point of contention in California. Palimony has proven difficult to define. Courts have awarded large payments only to have them rescinded on appeal.

Some of the factors courts have used to determine palimony include:

  • How long the relationship lasted
  • If one person took time off from school or work to raise children
  • What impact the breakup has on someone’s lifestyle
  • How were expenses shared in the relationship?

California judges have awarded large palimony settlements in the past.

The founder of Maglite flashlights was ordered to pay $84 million to his ex-girlfriend in 1994. The relationship lasted 20 years, and she co-ran his company while they were together.

While that case was later lowered to “only” $29 million, it demonstrates the potential impact of palimony.

Palimony is a nebulous concept in California law, with no clear standard. However, it does exist as an option for those who have cohabitated for years but never married.

With more unmarried couples living together, the number of palimony disputes will only increase.

If you have any questions about palimony or how to protect yourself from it, an experienced family law attorney can help.