Palimony is one of those issues that no one really likes to discuss, even though it has the potential to effect many long-term couples who live together, but choose to stay unmarried. Of course, the idea of being financially supported in this day and age is somewhat controversial, but the reality is that many couples are not, and never will be, on an equal footing when it to finances. For divorcing couples, the disparity between income levels is resolved through alimony, but there is no guarantee of financial support for those who are not legally married.
Some people consider this to be fair, since marriage is a legally binding union, thus there is a legal obligation to ensure that both spouses live a decent quality of life. Still, is it fair for economically disadvantaged partners in very long relationships to be left with nothing? As a general rule, the New Jersey courts do not consider long-term cohabitation arrangements as grounds for financial support, unless there is a written agreement for support should the relationship end. Known as a palimony agreement, this written document would need to be signed by both parties after being advised by independent counsel, similar to the requirements for a prenuptial agreement.
So, if you don't have a palimony agreement, you're out of luck, right? Well, maybe not – if you have a slew of factual and compelling circumstances, that is. One of the best examples in recent years is the case of Joiner v. Orman. This case was already interesting because of the defendant, Roscoe Orman, who is known world-wide as the character of Gordon Robinson from “Sesame Street”. The real intrigue, however, was over the unwritten agreement between Orman and the plaintiff, Sharon Joiner, whom he had lived with for over 30 years. Joiner was also the mother of his 4 children, went by the name Joiner-Orman, and was referred to by Orman as his “wife” in the dedication of his memoir, “Sesame Street Dad: Evolution of an Actor”.
Joiner alleged that Orman, who had stopped supporting her when he remarried in 2012, had promised to support her for life, considering that they had spent 39 years together, during which time she had taken on most of the household and child rearing responsibilities. While the court fully acknowledged that there was no written agreement, it did stress that there were a number of compelling circumstances that made this case the exception to the normal rules. In their assessment, the Joiner-Orman relationship appeared to be more or less a marriage, minus the civil commitment. That's at least how the Essex County superior court chose to see it, but it's important to note that this case is an extremely rare exception to the rule. Ultimately, a palimony agreement is the best way to ensure financial support in the event of a non-marital separation. For more information on your palimony rights and legal options, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.