If you scour the California family law code that governs divorces, you are not going to find the word “palimony.” And yet the term “palimony” may be one of California’s most famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective) contributions to how the law treats romantic partnerships. Combining the words “pal” and “alimony,” the palimony concept came about as a result of the case 1976 California Supreme Court case Marvin v. Marvin in which Michelle Marvin sued Dirty Dozen actor Lee Marvin for financial support and property distribution despite the fact that they were never married (she changed her name to Marvin without getting married).
In that case, the California Supreme Court upheld Ms. Marvin’s right to pursue financial support from Mr. Marvin despite the lack of a legal marriage, and the colloquial term “palimony” stuck. But palimony is not actually a family law concept and may be available only in limited situations in California.
Palimony is Not Alimony (Spousal Support)
First let’s be clear on what “alimony” is. Alimony is generally money that one spouse will have to pay another spouse for a certain period after a divorce to help the receiving spouse now that they are on their own.
In California, alimony is referred to as “spousal support,” and California courts will award spousal support to one spouse even where it is not necessary for financial survival, but instead to help the receiving spouse continue the standard of living he or she enjoyed in the marriage.
Spousal support is only available in California when there has been a marriage. Indeed the financial obligation of spousal support (along with the concept of community property) is one reason why many people avoid marriage and/or enter into prenuptial or postnuptial agreements that clearly spell out their obligations with regard to spousal support.
What “Palimony” Actually Is
So if palimony is not alimony, what is it? In Marvin v. Marvin, Mr. and Ms. Marvin entered into an oral agreement that he would financially support her should their non-marital relationship come to an end, and that half the property he had acquired while they lived together would be hers.