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What Is Palimony?

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What Is Palimony?

When a married couple divorces, a court may (or may not) order one spouse to pay the other spouse a certain amount of money, typically in periodic payments. The justification is sometimes obvious. One spouse might have quit their job to help the other spouse through medical school, for example. This money is known as alimony

There is an equivalent form of financial support from one partner to another recognized in some states. It is known informally as “palimony.” States that recognize palimony offer it in place of alimony when an unmarried but cohabitating couple divorces.  

“Palimony” Under Georgia Law

Although a few states (such as California) recognize palimony, Georgia does not. The reason why Georgia rejects the concept of palimony is to encourage couples to get married instead of merely living together. 

In other words, if you are seeking palimony in Georgia, you are out of luck. Depending on your circumstances, however, there might be a legal workaround that will allow you to recoup your investment in the relationship. 

Following is an analysis of three possible legal workarounds: unjust enrichment, common law marriage, and domestic partnership agreements.

Unjust Enrichment

Unjust enrichment is an ancient legal concept that allows a court to “even the score” when one party receives a valuable benefit from another party without receiving anything of equivalent value in return. It does not apply to transfers that the giver intended as a gift. 

Typically, unjust enrichment applies as a substitute for a contract lawsuit. Courts can also use it as a substitute for palimony benefit. In a cohabitation arrangement, one of the partners might have enriched themselves at the other party’s expense. The “losing party” can therefore seek compensation for the other party’s unjust enrichment.

How to recover for unjust enrichment

To receive compensation under an “unjust enrichment” legal theory, the burden of proof is on the party claiming unjust enrichment. There must have been no valid contract between the parties. If there was a valid contract, then the court will refer to the contract rather than unjust enrichment when apportioning compensation. 

Suppose, for example, that you helped your cohabitating partner pay for the house that you both lived in. Further suppose that the house is in your partner’s name. You might have also contributed to other property that you both use and that still holds value even after your breakup. In the absence of palimony, do you have any options? Probably yes. 

A Common Law Marriage Entered Into Before January 1, 1997

Another possible option is to seek to have the court declare a common law marriage between you and your partner. The problem is that Georgia abolished common law marriage on January 1, 1997. The abolition was not retroactive, however. If you had already met the terms of a common law marriage as of January 1, 1997, you might qualify for alimony (rather than palimony). 

Following are the legal requirements for a common law marriage (prior to January 1, 1997).

  • Both parties were at least 18 years old.
  • Any previous divorce was final before the common law marriage went into effect.
  • Both parties were legally able to enter into a contract. 
  • There was a contract (perhaps verbal) that one party would provide the other party with financial support.
  • The couple consummated the marriage.

There is no such thing as a same-sex common law marriage. Georgia did not legalize same-sex marriages until 2015 and it did not apply the legalization retroactively.

Can’t You Just Spell Out All the Terms in a Domestic Partnership Agreement?

You must enter into a domestic partnership agreement in advance, not after you separate and a dispute arises. Although the State of Georgia does not formally recognize domestic partnerships, individual cities and counties within Georgia do offer them on their own terms. Atlanta, Fulton County, and Athens-Clarke County all offer domestic partnerships, as a few examples. 

With a carefully-worded domestic partnership agreement, you might be able to duplicate some of the rights that cohabiting couples in palimony states enjoy.

Do You Need To Hire a Family Lawyer?

If you are seeking money from a former cohabitation partner, you might have an uphill climb ahead of you from a legal point of view. If the amount of money you are seeking is significant, you should definitely consider seeking the assistance of a family lawyer to help you out. Contact our experienced attorneys at Bardley McKnight Law Divorce Lawyers by calling (470) 308-5409 to schedule a consultation.

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