Palimony Not Recognized in Ohio – Resuming a Romantic Relationship is Insufficient to Establish a Contract
Palimony is a form of alimony awarded to one of the unmarried partners in a romantic relationship after the breakup of that relationship following a long period of living together. Unlike alimony which is typically provided for by law, palimony is not guaranteed to unmarried partners. Generally, a palimony plaintiff must prove an underlying contractual basis for his/her claim, such as an express (written or oral) or implied contract. My research shows that approximately 23 states have enforced a cohabitation agreement, either express or implied.
Palimony cases are determined in civil court as a contract matter, rather than in family court, as are divorce cases. The “palimony” phrase was coined by celebrity divorce attorney, Marvin Mitchelson, back in 1977 when his client Michelle Triola Marvin filed an unsuccessful suit against the actor Lee Marvin. The two were not married.
Palimony: Ohio Supreme Court Rules on Ownership of Unmarried Couple’s Home
It is rarely a good idea for unmarried individuals to purchase property together as their joint residence. Should the relationship fail, issues inevitably arise, often leading to disputes. Who will continue to live in the residence? Who will pay the mortgage payment, utilities and insurance? Will the property be sold, and can the parties agree on a price? Can the property be sold (is the mortgage greater than the value)? In all likelihood, the individual no longer residing in the property will want it sold or refinanced as soon as possible to remove his or her name from the deed and loan obligations, while the party residing in the property may be in no hurry to do so.
The problems arising from home ownership by a couple not married were brought to light again recently in a case reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court. This case had been hawked as the first Ohio Palimony case. In Williams v. Ormsby, decided in February of this year, the homeowner’s boyfriend moved into the house and started making mortgage payments. After Mr. Ormsby paid off the remaining balance, Ms. Williams transferred ownership to him. They broke up. They signed an agreement stating that when the house sold, Mr. Ormsby would receive the first $324,000 from the sale and Ms. Williams would receive the balance. They reconciled. Then, they signed a document making them “equal partners” in the property. They broke up a final time and,
inevitably, filed suit against each other.
The Trial Court agreed with Mr. Ormsby that Ms. Williams was not an equal partner in the property and not entitled to half of the proceeds of sale and that the deed to Mr. Ormsby gave him ownership of the property. The Court of Appeals disagreed and held that the parties’ contract to make them “equal partners” was enforceable. In response to whether there was consideration provided by both parties as required to make a contract enforceable, the Court of Appeals held that “moving into a home with another and resuming a relationship can constitute consideration sufficient to support a contract.”
The case went to the Ohio Supreme Court who correctly upheld the long-standing proposition that love and affection are not sufficient consideration to establish a contract; and, more specifically, moving into a home with another person while engaging in a romantic relationship does not satisfy the necessary requirements to form a contract.
I discussed this holding with Robert “Chip” Mues, the managing partner at our Dayton, Ohio, law firm. He analyzed the decision from a divorce and domestic relations perspective. Interestingly, he commented, “There is no way the Ohio Supreme Court was going to open up Ohio’s refusal to consider division of assets and property between unmarried cohabitants. Justice Lanzinger hit the nail on the head when she wrote ‘palimony is not recognized by Ohio statute or common law’. Ohio Civil Courts are swamped. I can’t imagine the added caseload that would potentially be created if the Supreme Court had ruled any other way.”
Clearly, the Supreme Court got it right. However, the more important point is that it isn’t surprising that this matter ended in lawsuits being filed and thousands of dollars being spent through the lengthy litigation process. The bottom line is that one should think long and hard before ever putting his or her signature on the bottom line and assuming co-ownership of a residence with a non-spouse. Bad things usually happen!
The author of Palimony Not Recognized in Ohio, Attorney Joseph E. Balmer is a partner at the Dayton Ohio law firm of Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues and has been handling real estate and contract matters since 1991. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org .
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Joseph E. Balmer
Joseph Balmer manages the Probate, Trust and Estate Administration department at Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has been certified by the Ohio State Bar Association as a specialist in Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law since 2006.