A 2010 change to New Jersey law made oral agreements for palimony unenforceable. But it was unclear whether this change would affect agreements that were already in place. A landmark case was recently decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, declaring that older oral palimony agreements are still valid. If you are struggling to enforce a palimony agreement, or if you want to create an agreement of support between yourself and a loved one, you should contact an experienced New Jersey family law attorney.
When two people agree to something, they don’t always “get it in writing.” New Jersey law recognizes that some oral contracts can be just as binding as written contracts, but there are a number of problems inherent in oral agreements. Therefore, it is imperative to get your agreements in writing and in a format that comports with the law.
New Jersey’s Statute of Frauds requires that certain important agreements must be made in writing in order to prevent fraud. For example, if you transfer ownership of real estate, make certain major agreements relating to creditors, or make agreements that depend upon a future marriage, the Statute of Frauds requires those agreements to be in writing.
In January of 2010, the New Jersey legislature added palimony agreements to the Statue of Frauds. Palimony is a term for a promise made by one person to provide some type of support for another party. It is somewhat similar to a prenuptial agreement, except that palimony is an agreement between two people who aren’t married. Palimony agreements can have effect long after a relationship has ended.
When the New Jersey Legislature added palimony to the Statue of Frauds, it indicated that an oral agreement for palimony would no longer be recognized in our state. From then on, any agreement for this type of support would have to be in writing.
In the case of Maeker v. Ross, two people had a spoken palimony agreement. Ms. Maeker claimed that Mr. Ross had orally agreed to provide her with lifetime financial support. Ms. Maeker relied upon Mr. Ross’ promise when she left her 20-year career in the architectural glass industry in order to sustain Mr. Ross’ emotional and physical needs, as well as advancing his financial interests. The agreement between Maeker and Ross occurred prior to the new law that requires palimony agreements to be in writing.
The couple’s relationship later came to an end when Ross moved out of their shared home and cut off all communication and support for Maeker. Ms. Maeker sued for the support she had allegedly been promised, but by then the 2010 Amendment to the Statute of Frauds already barred enforcement of oral palimony agreements.
Based on the 2010 change in law, Mr. Ross filed a motion to have the case dismissed. The trial court disagreed with Mr. Ross and allowed the case to proceed. Mr. Ross took his case to the New Jersey Appellate Court, which reversed the trial court and dismissed Ms. Maeker’s case against Ross.
Ms. Maeker brought her case to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 2010 law is not retroactive, and Mr. Ross’ oral agreement with Ms. Maeker is enforceable. The Supreme Court based this decision on three main concepts. First, anyone who made an oral palimony agreement prior to the 2010 law did so thinking that his or her agreement would be held valid. Second, when two parties make an agreement, they cannot be expected to predict how future changes in the law might affect the agreement. Lastly, the Supreme Court cautioned that an unknown number of oral palimony agreements would be struck if the 2010 law were applied retroactively.
The State Supreme Court has decided that oral palimony agreements made prior to the 2010 change in law are still binding. But from 2010 into the future, all such agreements must be in writing, and both parties must have the advice of counsel.
The 2010 change is designed to protect citizens because palimony agreements can deeply affect the finances of the parties over their lifetimes. It is critical to obtain legal advice when you need to create or enforce a palimony agreement. When you are facing a question about palimony, you should contact a New Jersey family attorney with a deep understanding of palimony law. Contact the experienced family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group. Call 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.
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Termination of Alimony Payments in New Jersey, August 27, 2014