California Palimony Laws: What is Palimony Law?

By Lindsay Kramer

Updated December 09, 2019

Document about palimony on a court desk.


Under California palimony laws, an individual may be entitled to receive financial support from a former partner following their breakup, even if the couple was not married. Palimony provides the same support as alimony, but unlike alimony, an individual does not have the explicit right to receive palimony following a breakup. Rather, the court may grant palimony to an individual seeking it if he can demonstrate that he genuinely believed he was legally married to his partner or if he can prove that he and his partner had an agreement regarding their assets in cohabitation.

Understanding California Palimony Laws

Simply living with a romantic partner does not entitle an individual to palimony. What grants an individual the ability to receive palimony is the existence of an agreement granting them both rights to their shared assets. This agreement could be oral, written or implied. To prove the existence of an oral or implied agreement, the court considers the couple’s actions regarding their shared assets during the relationship.

In California, palimony cases are handled on a case-by-case basis. They are treated like contract disputes, because in essence, this is what they are.

California Cohabitation Laws

California, unlike a few other states like Oklahoma and Iowa, does not recognize common law marriage. This means that a cohabiting couple, no matter how long they have lived together or which assets they share, never has the same legal rights as a married couple – with one exception.

Generally, California courts recognize legal marriages enacted in other places, even when these marriages would not be legally recognized if they had been performed in California. For example, a couple who enters a common law marriage in Iowa who moves to California may have their marriage deemed legal and thus, subject to the same laws regarding legal marriage and divorce.

Shared Property in Cohabiting Relationships

Although California couples cannot enter common law marriages, they have certain rights regarding shared property in cohabiting relationships. However, they only have these rights when there is an explicit or implied contract granting them the right to share ownership of their joint assets.

This could be a signed document stating both parties’ right to various assets or a collection of signed documents in which the individuals grant each other certain rights, such as life insurance policies naming each other as beneficiaries or a joint tenancy agreement naming them co-owners of their home.

Implied agreements can be more difficult to prove in court, but it is possible – such as in cases in which one partner exits the workforce to devote himself to full-time parenting, thus enabling the other to pursue greater career success.

Cohabitation and Parental Rights

When a cohabiting couple has a child, they must legally establish the child’s paternity to grant the father legal rights to his child. Legal parents have rights to their children such as the right to pursue parenting time, the right to pursue child support, and the right to object to a proposed adoption of the child regardless of whether they are, or ever were, married.

Additionally, California cohabitation laws state that although cohabitation with a new partner does not automatically terminate an existing alimony order, it can be cited as a reason to reduce or terminate such an order.

Filing a Palimony Lawsuit California

To pursue palimony lawsuit in California following a split, an individual must file a petition for palimony in the county court of the county where she resides. In her petition, she must demonstrate that some type of valid cohabitation agreement existed between herself and her partner. During the following hearing, the court examines the evidence the petitioner provides as well as any the defendant provides to determine, not only whether a valid agreement existed between the parties, but exactly what the agreement specified.

If the court rules in favor of the petitioning party, it may only award palimony in accordance with the couple’s agreement, rather than creating an order based on its own findings as it would in an alimony case.