Alimony vs. Palimony in Pennsylvania

If you’re of a certain age, you will remember the term “palimony” being coined by attorney Marvin Mitchelson when he represented Michelle Triola Marvin against actor Lee Marvin, with whom she lived for several years before the two broke up. Mitchelson had fought for financial support for his client similar to the alimony that is frequently paid by one spouse to their ex upon a separation or divorce. The attempt was unsuccessful, but the concept of financial support for a live-in partner captured a great deal of attention.

The palimony case was in the news in 1977, and at that time the state of Pennsylvania still recognized common law marriage, which – if proven – can entitle one partner to the same property rights as that of a traditionally married couple. Beyond that particular dynamic, an unmarried person seeking palimony from an ex-partner is unlikely to be successful within the state of Pennsylvania unless there is a previously existing agreement that such payment will be made.

In the state of Pennsylvania, there are two different types of alimony that can be awarded prior to the divorce being finalized and a different type after the divorce. Before the divorce a financially dependent spouse can receive spousal support after the couple has separated. This continues until one spouse files for divorce. Following this phase, alimony pendente lite can be ordered after the filing but before the divorce is finalized. Finally, post-divorce support is available to meet the dependent spouse’s needs, though this is usually only available for a short period of time. All of these types of alimony are calculated based on each spouse’s earning capacity; the age and physical, mental and emotional condition of each spouse; each spouse’s sources of income; the duration of the marriage; and other considerations.

By contrast, if a couple in Pennsylvania has cohabitated without referring to themselves or conducting themselves legally as being married, then neither can be obligated to provide financial support to the other. Any items purchased together would be split equitably in the same way that would be true of any other individuals, and each is entitled to leave the relationship with the possessions and assets that they entered it with.  The only exception to this rule is if the two have entered into a contract establishing that financial support will be provided in the event that they part ways.