Court Upholds Oral Agreement between Unmarried Partners

It is common story. Two people in a relationship each enjoy a career, and the attendant earnings and benefits, until children are born. One partner quits work to care for the children and home on the understanding that the income and benefits of the working partner will be shared. If the couple is married, state law protects the financial rights of the stay-at-home parent. But what happens if the parents were never married? 

A recent appeal before the Supreme Court, Second Department, considered the rights of parties who enjoyed a relationship for almost 18 years. As same-sex partners whose relationship ended by 2007, they could not partake of the benefits of the Marriage Equity Act. 

In the matter concerning Laura Dee and Dena Rakower, the court considered undisputed facts including the following: 

  • Ms. Dee and Ms. Rakower were involved in a committed relationship and identified themselves as a family unit from 1990 until 2007.
  • During that time, each partner bore a biological child who was adopted by the other partner.
  • The couple purchased a house as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.
  • The parties agreed, given the cost of childcare, Ms. Dee would be the full-time caregiver after their first child was born.
  • Specific discussions were had between parties concerning loss of income and future retirement benefits by Ms. Dee. Ms. Dee asserts the parties agreed that income and benefits attained by Ms. Rakower would be shared. 

The court found an action for breach of contract was credible and “because the parties were an unmarried couple living together does not render it unenforceable.” The matter was returned to a lower court for trial. 

While not a final decision, the ruling provides hope to parties of any orientation who act in good faith to their detriment based on the promises of another. Marriage provides legal protections as do prenuptial agreements. If concerned about either, contact my firm in Long Island, Bryan L. Salamone and Associates, P.C.

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