The law surrounding palimony has been fluid in the last several months as the New Jersey Courts have refined litigants rights after the break up of relationships in which the parties were not married. Most of the decisions are consistent with the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision in Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378 (1979), which had held that a promise of lifetime support by one cohabitant to another in a marital-like relationship would be enforced, if one of the partners was induced to cohabit by the promise. The court held that the right to such support is found in contract principles and that the contract may be either express or implied. This principle has been upheld consistently by the Courts.
In a most recent case, however, Bayne v. Johnson, decided October 27, 2008 and approved for publication, the Appellate Division denied palimony to a woman who had had a long standing, marital type relationship with her paramour. The unique facts in this case involved an entrepreneur, Earl Johnson, who had married a wealthy woman twenty years his senior for convenient purposes. In 1981, Mr. Johnson met, Fiona Bayne, a flight attendant, on a trip between London and Dublin. Over the course of the next 19 years, they engaged in a serious relationship. At first, Ms. Bayne did not know about Mr. Johnson’s marriage, but eventually found out. After getting over the initial shock, the three proceeded to live together in different locations including Florida, Las Vegas, Chicago, the Bahamas, and New Jersey. During this time, Ms. Bayne became the caretaker of Mr. Johnson’s wife, and they lived an upscale lifestyle which was in part over the years supported by a joint bank account to which the three had access and was funded by the significant trust income of Mrs. Johnson. Ms. Bayne’s name was listed on this account as “Johnson”, and there was testimony that Mr. Johnson and Ms. Bayne held themselves out to be husband and wife. During the course of the relationship, Ms. Bayne was heavily involved in certain business interests of Mr. Johnson, as a manager. Although Mr. Johnson had many business interests throughout this time, most were not successful and the parties’ lifestyle was derived from the income of elderly Mrs. Johnson.
In 2000, Ms. Bayne left Mr. Johnson. She initially remained on the East Coast, but then returned to her home in the UK. She subsequently sued Mr. Johnson, claiming that she was entitled to palimony based on an alleged agreement to pay her future support.
The Appellate Division found that Ms. Bayne was not entitled to palimony. The Court agreed with the trial court which found that there was a marital type relationship between Mr. Johnson and Ms. Bayne, which is the first requirement for a palimony award. However, the court disagreed with the trial court’s finding that there was an implied promise by Mr. Johnson to support Ms. Bayne for her life. The Appellate Court determined that Ms. Bayne knew that Mr. Johnson was essentially a failed entrepreneur, and that she knew that he was dependent on his wife’s money. Thus, her request for palimony was denied based upon the fact that at the time of their separation, Ms. Bayne was actually more economically self sufficient than Mr. Johnson. The court pointed out the essential fact that palimony is the enforcement of a broken promise made for future support, and not compensation for years spent in a failed relationship.
Almost as foreshadowing, on October 2, 2008, S-2091 was introduced by State Senator Nicolas P. Scutari introduced legislation which is intended to overturn these "palimony" decisions by requiring that any such contract must be in writing and signed by the person making the promise. More specifically, the bill provides that a promise by one party to a non-marital personal relationship to provide support for the other party, either during the course of such relationship or after its termination, is not binding unless it is in writing and signed. To see the bill, click here.
There is not doubt that there will be spirited debate on the issue of whether the legislature should prevent a court of equity from determining whether one is entitled to palimony. It appears from the Bayne case that the Courts are more than able to review each case on its own fact and merits and determine when relief is appropriate.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If and when the proposed palimony bill is passed, we will update the blog accordingly. If it is passed, that will essentially represent the death knell of palimony cases because the promise is virtually never put it writing. it would also do away with the concept of "implied promise" found in these cases. Eric S. Solotoff