2010 Amendment to Statute of Frauds Can Apply to Palimony Agreements Made Prior to Amendment’s Effective Date

Maeker v. Ross, 430 N.J. Super. 79 (App. Div. 2013).  In 2010, the Legislature amended the Statute of Frauds, N.J.S.A. 25:1-5(h), to cover “palimony” agreements, that is, “[a] promise by one party to a non-marital personal relationship to provide support or other consideration to the other party, either during the course of such relationship or after its termination.”   As a result of that amendment, palimony contracts are now among the agreements upon which “[n]o action shall be brought” unless the agreement is “in writing, and signed by the party to be charged therewith.”

In this case, the parties allegedly entered into an unwritten palimony agreement long before the 2010 amendment.  On July 1, 2011, according to plaintiff’s complaint, defendant breached that agreement.  Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  The Chancery Division denied that motion, ruling that the Legislature intended that the amendment apply only to palimony agreements entered into after the statute’s effective date.  The Appellate Division granted leave to appeal and reversed in an opinion by Judge Sapp-Peterson. 

The question of whether the Legislature intended the 2010 amendment to apply to palimony agreements that predated that amendment was one of law, so that the standard of review was de novo and no deference was owed to the Chancery Division’s decision.  Judge Sapp-Peterson emphasized that “[b]ecause palimony actions are based upon principles of contract, plaintiff’s cause of action accrued at the time defendant is alleged to have breached the agreement, not at the time the promise of lifetime support was purportedly made.”  Since plaintiff alleged that the breach occurred on July 1, 2011, after the 2010 amendment, her cause of action was governed by the amendment.  The date that the palimony agreement was allegedly made was of no moment. 

Plaintiff also argued that the 2010 amendment was unconstitutional, but Judge Sapp-Peterson rejected that contention because it had not been raised below.  Moreover, the constitutional claim related to another aspect of the 2010 amendment, which required that parties to a palimony agreement must consult counsel before memorializing such agreements, not to the idea that such agreements must be in writing.  “Since defendant’s purported promise was never reduced to writing, there is no reason to address the constitutionality of this requirement.” 

Finally, Judge Sapp-Peterson rebuffed plaintiff’s other claims, which were based on unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, quasi contract, and equitable estoppel.  Those “equitable claims are merely different versions of her underlying palimony claim that is barred.”