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Palimony is an award of support, similar to alimony, in which the couple were not married but lived together for a long period and then terminated their relationship. A determining factor in awarding such support is whether there was an agreement that one partner would support the other in return for the second making a home and performing other domestic duties beyond sexual pleasures. However, not all courts require cohabitation as a prerequisite to the finding of an implied agreement between unmarried persons concerning their property.
In 1976, Michelle Marvin unsuccessfully sued her boyfriend, Lee Marvin claiming that they had a marriage like relationship and that she was entitled to his property as if they were married. However, the court said that she did have a right to sue based on her claims of a significant relationship arising out of cohabitation and that others could follow in her footsteps. This broke ground for a new breed of lawsuits and appellate decisions as the courts continue to determine this new area of law. This type of suit is now referred to as a "Marvin" action or, less formally, as a palimony suit.
Generally, a palimony plaintiff must prove some other underlying basis for his or her claim, such as an express or implied contract. In California and certain other states, the courts enforce most agreements between unmarried cohabitants regarding their property. These agreements fall into three categories: implied, oral , and written.
Implied Agreements: Implied agreements are unspoken "understandings" between two people which can be implied from their conduct. A jury may find that the cohabitants had an "understanding" that one person would always support the other, even if the relationship broke up, based on past behavior of providing financial support.
Oral Agreements: An oral agreement is an agreement made through spoken words and are difficult to prove, especially when memories fade or a party to the agrement isn't truthful.
Written Agreements: Written agreements are the preferred form of agreement for allowing the parties to communicate and clarify their expectations of each other. Written agreements may avoid many of the problems of proof of intentions and expectations involved in oral and implied agreements.
Other theories on which a palimony suit can be based include promissory estoppel and quantum merit.