Laws Affecting Un-Married Couples

Many courts will recognize legal property and/or support rights arising from cohabitation of non-married parties. Palimony refers to the support obligation that may arise following the end of the relationship. NJ previously recognized palimony claims however a recent change to the law has made it more difficult to obtain by requiring a written agreement on support between the parties. This new statute did not result in the end of all palimony type claims however. Just a few months ago, in Joiner-Orman v. Orman, the court allowed a palimony award for Wife. The relationship lasted 39 years and Wife stayed home to raise the parties’ 4 children. The court relied on the doctrine of full performance to justify the palimony award in that Wife had fulfilled her end of the bargain as a homemaker and full-time Mom and so allowing Husband to leave the relationship without paying support would be unfair. The Orman case is not precedential as it is only a trial court decision and unreported.

Pennsylvania may also recognize some rights between unmarried couples as a matter of equity. Generally title controls ownership in the case of unmarried couples however there are exceptions to the general rule including unjust enrichment and quantum meruit. Unjust enrichment is the theory that it is unfair to allow the person that does not have title to be excluded from wealth they helped create. Quantum meruit is a Latin phrase meaning what one has earned. In this context, the court must consider whether the conduct of the parties evidences an agreement and/or expectation of some form of compensation for performance. Quantum meruit requires a contract or agreement, tacit or otherwise, whereas unjust enrichment does not and is just about the courts doing what is fair. The best way to avoid a legal battle if things go awry in any relationship is to have all agreements clearly stated and reduced to writing.

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