New York Lawsuit Claims Damages for Defendant’s Failure to Get a Divorce

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An unusual lawsuit filed in state court in Manhattan claims that the defendant harmed the plaintiff by not getting a divorce. The parties were allegedly involved in a romantic relationship for several years, although the defendant was still married to someone else. The plaintiff is seeking reimbursement for time spent as the defendant’s “glorified gofer,” as the New York Post puts it. The lawsuit is somewhat reminiscent of cases in which a person claims compensation or support from a former romantic partner, in the absence of a marriage relationship. This type of claim is informally known as “palimony,” a combination of the words “pal” and “alimony.” The case is also notable for the defendant’s alleged claim that he is unable to obtain a divorce.

The plaintiff claims that she is entitled to $2 million in compensation. The 67-year-old plaintiff was reportedly involved in a relationship with the defendant, an 88-year-old retired media executive, for about six years. During that time, she claims that she performed various business and personal services for him, including promoting a memoir he wrote and investigating his wife in search of evidence he could use in their divorce proceeding.

Throughout the relationship, the defendant resided with his wife. He allegedly claimed that his wife refused to agree to a divorce, telling the plaintiff that his wife said she would “see them bury you six feet under before I grant you a divorce.” New York does not actually require both spouses’ consent in a divorce case. A court may grant a divorce if one spouse states, under oath, that the marital relationship “has broken down irretrievably for a period of at least six months,” although the court must also resolve issues like equitable distribution of marital property. A refusal to “grant” a divorce might just mean a refusal to cooperate in this legal process.

The lawsuit differs from a palimony case, in that the parties never lived together, but there are many similarities. The term “palimony” first appeared in the 1970s in connection with a California case, Marvin v. Marvin. A woman who had lived with the actor Lee Marvin for about five years sued him under state community property and alimony laws, even though they were never married. The California Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that, despite the absence of a written agreement, she had raised a valid claim for breach of contract. The trial court awarded her $104,000 in 1979, but an appellate court vacated the award in 1981.

New York has not followed California and other states in recognizing palimony claims. This state abolished common-law marriage in 1933. The New York Court of Appeals ruled in 1980’s Morone v. Morone decision that spousal support and equitable distribution of property between unmarried parties requires a written contract. State appellate courts have affirmed Morone over the years, such as in Donnell v. Stogel in 1990, Toth v. Spellman in 2012, and Dee v. Rakower in 2013.

A divorce case can be a complicated and disruptive process, affecting nearly every part of your life in some way. If you are considering filing for divorce in New York City, you should seek the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney to help you understand your rights and obligations and protect your interests. For the past 30 years, Ingrid Gherman has practiced family law in the greater New York City area. Contact us today online or at (212) 941-0767 to schedule a confidential consultation.

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