California does not recognize common law marriage. This means that the state will not consider you to be married no matter how long you and your partner live together. In order to enjoy the benefits that are extended to married couples, you have to be legally married. There is one major exception to this rule. Since 1976, California has recognized the right of some unmarried partners to receive financial support after a break-up. This support, which is known as palimony, is essentially spousal support for unmarried couples.
What is Palimony?
Palimony refers to the financial support that one partner may be able to receive after ending a long-lasting relationship. You can think of it as spousal support for unmarried couples who split. The theory behind palimony is that long-time partners who live together may come to substantially rely on each other’s financial support.
When the couple decides to part ways, one partner may have difficulty adjusting to life on his or her own. Spousal support, or alimony, can be awarded to spouses after a divorce or separation to help them make the transition to single life. Similarly, palimony can be awarded in certain cases to help newly-single individuals adjust to life on their own.
Who Can Get Palimony?
There are only very limited circumstances under which a court will grant an award of palimony.
Palimony may be available if a couple (or individual spouse) mistakenly believes that they are married. This mistake must be reasonable and in good faith. This could happen if one spouse defrauded the other or if there was a clerical error which prevented their marriage paperwork from being filed properly.
When this happens, a court may determine that the couple lived together under the impression that they shared financial rights and obligations. It would be unfair, then, to deny those spouses the rights they thought they enjoyed. If one of those spouses requested financial support, the court could classify them as a putative spouse and extend this limited right to them.
Contracts and Agreements
Sometimes couples will not believe that they are married, but will believe that they have entered into a private agreement with their spouse to enjoy certain rights that are typically extended to married couples. Specifically, one person may believe that there is a mutual understanding that all property, income, and assets will be shared between the two unmarried partners. These understandings may be written, oral, or implied.
If you are in a long-term relationship and cohabitating with a partner, you may be under the impression that you and your partner share in the relationship equally. Your partner may have even promised to share his or her retirement benefits, property, and income with you, equally. When the relationship ends, you can request financial support because of those promises.
A court can step in and order palimony in these situations. However, the court will review each situation individually and determine if there was a written, oral, or implied contract between the two cohabitating partners. Factors that will be important in this determination include:
- How long you lived together with your partner
- Whether there is written proof of such an arrangement
- Whether there is proof of an oral arrangement
- Whether a partner’s conduct demonstrates that the agreement is real, and/or
- Shared bank accounts or property.
An agreement may even be thought to exist if one partner sacrificed his or her own time and income to support the other person’s’ passion, education, or work.
If you are living with a long-term partner and want to avoid any legal ambiguity in your relationship, you should consider creating a cohabitation agreement. Think of it as a prenuptial agreement for unmarried partners. This will basically be a contract between you and your partner that discusses aspects of your relationship that could become problematic down the line. These agreements can be incredibly helpful if your relationship hits a bump in the road. It is important to make sure that your agreement is crafted with the help of an experienced attorney.
Do you want to learn more about alimony or creating a cohabitation agreement? Contact Fernandez & Karney. Our Los Angeles family law attorneys will help you understand your rights and determine the best strategy for your specific situation. Your first consultation is free, so do not hesitate to call us now.