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Palimony is a portmanteau of the words pal and alimony. The neologism was coined by celebrity divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson in 1977 when his client Michelle Triola Marvin filed an unsuccessful suit against the actor Lee Marvin.


Despite the quasi-divorce proceeding suggested by the word, "palimony" is not a legal term and has never been used by the California Supreme Court. The proper legal term, at least in California, is "non-marital relationship contract", and because the relationship is non-marital, the family courts have no jurisdiction. Disputes over contract terms are civil cases, thus enforcement is left to trial courts, or in California, "superior court".

Non-marital relationship contracts are not limited to two people, and because these contracts are non-marital, any party can also be party to a marriage.

Palimony is a popular term, not a historical legal term, used to describe the division of financial assets and real property on the termination of a personal, live-in relationship wherein the parties are not legally married. Unlike alimony, which is typically provided for by law, palimony is not guaranteed to unmarried partners. There must be a clear agreement, written or oral, by both partners stipulating the extent of financial sharing and/or support in order for palimony to be granted. Palimony cases are determined in civil court as a contract matter, rather than in family court, as in cases of divorce.

Marvin v. Marvin

In 1971, Michelle Marvin claimed that actor Lee Marvin, who was still married at the time they began living together, had promised to support her for the rest of her life. In the end, in Marvin v. Marvin, the California Supreme Courtmarker ruled that Michelle Marvin had not proven the existence of a contract between herself and Mr. Marvin that gave her an interest in his property. Thus, the common law rule applied to the situation without alteration, and she took away from the relationship and the household what she brought to it.

The Court went on to explain that while the state abolished common law marriage in 1896, California law recognizes non-marital relationship contracts. These contracts may be express or implied, oral or written--but they must be provable in any case. The contract may also provide for a sexual relationship as long as it is not a contract for sexual services. Eventually, the California Court of Appeal ruled that since Triola and Lee Marvin never had a contract, she was not entitled to any money.

Notable cases

  • In 1982, famous pianist Liberace was sued for US$113 million in palimony by his partner Scott Thorson. Though most of Thorson's claim was dismissed, he received a US$95,000 settlement.
  • Judy Nelson filed a palimony suit against women's tennis star Martina Navratilova after their breakup in 1991.
  • In 1996, Van Cliburn was sued by former partner, Thomas Zaremba, for a share of his income and assets following a 17-year relationship ending in 1994. Zaremba's palimony case was dismissed for lack of written agreement, along with claims for emotional distress and that Cliburn subjected him to the fear of AIDS through Cliburn's alleged unprotected liaisons with third parties.
  • Canadianmarker figure skater, Brian Orser, was sued by a former lover in 1998, outing Orser in the process.
  • In 2004, comedian Bill Maher was sued for US$9 million by his ex-girlfriend, Nancy Johnson a.k.a. "Coco Johnsen". On May 2, 2005, a California Superior Court judge dismissed the case.

Palimony in popular culture

The character Albert Goldman played by Nathan Lane, in the 1996 film The Birdcage asks for a palimony agreement from his partner, Armand Goldman played by Robin Williams.

Palimony was used as a form of revenge by the Bridgette Wilson character, Chelsea Turner against her character's boyfriend Seth Winnick played by French Stewart) in the 1999 film Love Stinks.

Included in the liner notes for Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet album is a thank you to the group's "expensive lawyers" for helping them to negotiate alimony and palimony payments.

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