Yesterday, the NJ Supreme Court published their ruling in Devaney v. L’Esperance, A-20-07.  In this case, Helen Devaney began a relationship in 1983 with Dr. Francis L’Esperance (a pioneer in laser eye surgery) which lasted on and off for 20 years.  L’Esperance paid for Devaney’s college education (undergraduate and graduate), provided an apartment for her and claimed he would leave his wife for her (which he never did).  They also tried unsuccessfully to have a child together.

When the relationship ended, L’Esperance kicked Devaney out of the apartment.  She then sued him for palimony.  Palimony is support for a former partner, similar in concept to alimony (which is only for married or civilly unioned couples).   Palimony is not based in statutory law but common law (law developed by courts) as New Jersey eliminated common law marriages in 1939.   However, in the early 1970s, many couples began living together as married without legally doing so.  The courts recognized this shift and created palimony as equitable relief for promises made and not fulfilled.

Historically, cohabitation was a requirement for someone to be awarded palimony.  In ruling on Devaney, the court found that cohabitation was not a necessary requirement.  “It is the promise of support, expressed or implied, coupled with a marital-type relationship, that are the indispensable elements to support a valid claim of palimony,” Justice John Wallace wrote for the court.

However, this aspect of the ruling did not help the plaintiff in this case.  The court also found that the plaintiff did not successfully prove that she had a marital-type relationship with the defendant, nor did they hold themselves out to be a mrried couple.  “As the trial judge so aptly phrased it,” Wallace wrote, “‘the parties’ relationship was best characterized as a dating relationship.'”

Wallace further stated, “”There may be circumstances where a couple may hold themselves out to others as if they were married and yet not cohabit (i.e., couples who are separated due to employment, military, or educational opportunities who do not cohabit).  The trier of fact must consider the realities of the relationship in the quest to achieve substantial justice. [T]he trial judge should consider the entirety of the relationship and, if a marital-type relationship is otherwise proven, [the palimony claim] should not be rejected solely because cohabitation is not present.”