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Alimony vs Palimony - What's the difference?

What's the difference between palimony and alimony? Read on for everything you need to know about the two terms, including how they differ.

evident Editorial Team
November 20, 2023
Heart drawn on sand, palimony vs alimony

Have questions about the difference between alimony and palimony? The two terms have some similarities, and certainly sound alike, but differ in important ways.

Read on for a brief overview of alimony vs palimony, including the basics of both and how they differ.

Key Takeaways

What is alimony?

Alimony provides financial aid to one spouse from another during or after a divorce. Alimony is often called “spousal maintenance” or “spousal support,” depending on the relevant state, as most states’ laws have replaced the term alimony. 

If one spouse is unable to support themselves, alimony is aimed at helping them become financially independent following a divorce. 

It is important to note that alimony laws vary among states, so how alimony works in Illinois differs from how it works in New York.  Financial support is only awarded after a judge determines it is warranted under the state's laws.  

When evaluating an alimony award, a threshold issue is typically the paying spouse's ability to provide support and the requesting spouse's need for spousal support.  Some other common factors that judges look at when determining whether or not to award alimony include:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The present and future income of each party
  • The earning capacity of each party
  • The age, physical and emotional condition of each party

There are several types of alimony which differ in terms of the timing, amount, duration, and form of alimony payments. 

Types of alimony

The types of alimony available to divorcing couples vary by state, but these are some of the commonly available types:

  • Temporary alimony: Alimony paid during the divorce process that terminates when the couple’s divorce is finalized. 
  • Permanent alimony: Alimony paid indefinitely, unless the court orders a modification of the payment. This generally occurs when a change in circumstances arises such as if one spouse dies, or the receiving spouse remarries.
  • Periodic alimony: Alimony paid on a regular schedule, usually monthly, which is more common than lump-sum alimony. 
  • Lump-sum alimony: Alimony paid in a single installment and does not involve ongoing support.
  • Rehabilitative alimony: Alimony that is paid to a spouse for things such as education or job training, meant to help the receiving spouse become financially independent.
  • Reimbursement alimony: Alimony that is paid to reimburse the receiving spouse for expenses associated with the education or job training of the other spouse.

Remember, though, that the types of alimony available vary from state to state. For example, for alimony in Ohio, the available types are temporary, permanent, periodic, and lump-sum alimony.

What is palimony?

In simple terms, palimony is alimony for unmarried cohabiting couples who have split up. 

But how palimony works differs from state to state, and unlike alimony, many states do not recognize palimony. Thus, there is even greater variation between palimony laws than between alimony laws.

Some states recognize “common law marriage” between couples, which is the context in which palimony often comes up. 

What is a common law marriage?

A common law marriage is when a couple lives together for a long period of time and views each other as spouses, without ever legally getting married. 

While not all states recognize common law marriage, those that do generally have a few requirements for such a relationship to be recognized as a common law marriage. (States that recognize common law marriage include Texas and Colorado, while Florida and California are among the states that don't).

Several common requirements are:

  • The couple must live together (requisite time periods vary by state)
  • The couple must have the legal right or capacity to marry (i.e. they could have married, but didn’t)
  • The couple must intend to be married

That said, remember that the exact requirements vary by state and not all states recognize common law marriages.

Palimony requirements

As mentioned, the requirements for how to get palimony vary by state. 

In some states, though, courts will only award palimony if the couple has a written cohabitation agreement that addresses future financial support considerations in the event of the relationship ending. 

Such agreements, sometimes referred to as palimony agreements, must have been written before the couple separates.

Other factors that a court might consider when evaluating a request for palimony include:

  • The length of the relationship
  • Whether the separating couple has children
  • The financial situation of each partner (e.g. their earning capacity and assets)

To get palimony, a person must file a civil action and typically bears the burden of proof to show that there was a marriage-like relationship and that a palimony award is warranted.

Differences between alimony and palimony

The key difference between palimony and alimony is the state of the relationship at the time of the separation. 

If a legally married couple divorces, alimony is available. But if a cohabiting couple that never legally married breaks up, the financial support available would be called palimony. 

Another critical difference between palimony and alimony is that while alimony is broadly available, palimony is only recognized by a few states.

The Final Word on Palimony vs. Alimony

So, palimony vs alimony, what’s the difference? Let’s recap some key takeaways.

The biggest difference between alimony and palimony is the state of the relationship:

  • Alimony, also referred to as spousal support or maintenance depending on the state, provides financial support to one spouse from the other during or after a divorce. 
  • Palimony is financial support awarded to unmarried, cohabiting couples who have split up. 

Not all states recognize palimony, and those that do have varying requirements in determining whether palimony should be awarded. Such requirements can include the length of time the couple lived together and whether or not there was a formal written agreement (often called a cohabitation agreement or palimony agreement).

If you have further questions, it may be worth speaking with a family law attorney to discuss the specifics of your situation.