Morone v. Morone
429 N.Y.S.2d 592, 413 N.E.2d 1154 (N.Y. 1980)

  • The Morones were never officially married but lived together for many years. Then they broke up.
    • The wife claimed that part of their arrangements was that she did not work outside the home. This left her with no skills to get a job with after the breakup.
    • The wife also claimed that she provided ‘business services’, not just domestic services.
  • The “wife” sued for the value of the household services she provided her “husband” on two theories:
    • There is automatically an implied contract between the cohabitating couple and
    • There was also an express contract formed between the two.
  • The Trial Court found for the husband. The wife appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed, but on a slightly different basis. The wife appealed.
  • The New York Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The New York Supreme Court found that personal services rendered between the couple will not constitute an implied contract (aka a contract implied-in-fact) because such services are ordinarily understood to be gratuitous.
      • It is also pretty much impossible to determine what actions were a bargained-for exchange and what services were simply rendered gratuitously because the two were in love.
    • The Court agreed that, in theory, you could have an express contract between a cohabitating couple.
      • However, historically, Courts have not been sympathetic to express contracts because it could be construed as prostitution, which would be illegal.
        • And you can’t sign a contract to do something illegal.
    • The Court found that social change in the status of marriage and cohabitation has also led to changes and uncertainty in the law.
      • The Court first finds that unmarried people living together can make express contracts just like anyone else, but domestic services between the two will not be presumed to form any contractual bond.
      • It’s not the role of the Court to get involved in the post-mortem of an intimate relationship, not legally recognized as marriage, and try to infer after the fact a contract that was never formed expressly.
      • The Court notes that New York had previously outlawed common law marriage, partly because it caused too much needless litigation.
  • This is a change from the general rule that you can have an implied contract. Here the Court says that they don’t care how many services the wife did, and how much money and other considerations the husband provided. There is simply no implied contract in domestic relationships.
    • The basic rule is that people living together do not legal acquire implied obligations.
  • In the case of Marvin v. Marvin (557 P.2d 106 (1976)) Mr. Marvin was in a similar situation, but in California, not New York. Ms. Marvin made similar claims that there was an implied contract. The California Court ruled in the woman’s favor, the opposite of what happened in this case.
    • Marvin established the concept of palimony (as opposed to alimony).
    • Since the cases were in a different States, the Court’s decisions can be contradictory.
  • One of the very few places that still allow common law marriage is the District of Columbia. There is no length of time requirement. If you live with someone of the opposite sex, even as platonic roommates, you may be considered married!
    • DC does not have common-law divorce. If there is a dispute, you have to go through the whole divorce court system (same with inheritance claims).
  • If you follow the reasoning in this case, couples that do not have the option to actually get married (e.g. gay couples) can have an implied contract of this nature.