Palimony Claim’s Date Determines If Statute of Frauds Is Applicable

February 4, 2013 – In The News
New Jersey Law Journal

According to an appeals court, a 2010 law requiring that all palimony agreements be in writing applies to all claims filed after it took effect, no matter when the alleged promise of support was made. According to the Appellate Division, due to the fact that a palimony claim arises when a promise of support by one unmarried paramour to another is breached, it is the date of filing that determines whether the statute controls.

The decision, in Maeker v. Ross, A-3034-11, is the first precedential appellate ruling on the issue since the Legislature amended the statute of frauds to include palimony agreements among contracts that must be in writing to be enforceable.

Maeker filed her complaint in Somerset County on July 8, 2011, a week after William Ross ended their 13-year relationship. Ross, who was represented in this landmark case by Eric Solotoff, Chair of Fox Rothchid’s Family Law Group, not only supported Maeker financially but also signed a power of attorney authorizing her to manage his affairs, executed a will that left her his residuary estate and named her as an executrix and trustee.

Ross moved to dismiss the case based on the new law. Superior Court Judge Thomas Miller denied the motion and granted Maeker's cross-motion for pendente lite support, ordering Ross to pay her $6,000 a month.

Miller found that the Legislature did not clearly indicate that it meant to extinguish palimony causes of action that potentially existed at the time the law took effect, pointing out it took effect the day it was signed.

In Miller's view, a palimony cause of action arose when the agreement was made, not when it was breached, and any other interpretation would release someone who promised support from the obligation based on when they chose to breach that agreement.

Appellate Division Judges Paulette Sapp-Peterson, Francine Axelrad and Michael Haas granted Ross's request for an interlocutory appeal and a stay of Miller's decision. They believe that a palimony claim accrues when the agreement is breached. As quoted in the New Jersey Law Journal article, Eric states “the Appellate Division properly captured the legislative intent here.”

The judges declined to award Maeker equitable relief based on unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, quasi-contract or equitable estoppel, rejecting Maeker's argument that an oral promise of lifetimesupport could be enforced based on partial performance by Ross.

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