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The rights of unmarried couples in Rhode Island


Frequently questions arise about the rights of non-married cohabitants after the break of a relationship. Of course if the parties previously entered a formal agreement about their assets, that document controls. However, when the parties do not have a written agreement, equitable considerations will govern.

Rhode Island courts have never permitted an unrelated co-habitant to acquire a legal or equitable interest in the accumulations, income or property of a fellow co-habitant merely as a result of the existence of an intimate relationship. Neither the Rhode Island General Assembly nor the Rhode Island Supreme Court has ever recognized a "quasi-marital" relationship. Thus individuals who are engaged in a "meretricious" relationship may not, solely by virtue of their involvement in such a relationship, gain an equitable or legal right to a fellow cohabitant's property.

Accordingly, in Rhode Island a paramour can only obtain an interest in property of a cohabitant when (1) the couple clearly intended to enter a common law marriage by virtue of their cohabitation (and thus they are treated as "married"), (2) the couple entered a formal agreement giving rise to enforcement under contract law (i.e. for specific services such as homemaking), and (3) there are sufficient facts to support a claim of unjust enrichment. Doe v. Burkland, 808 A.2d 1090, 1095 (2002). Absent these findings, parties who previously resided together in an intimate relationship do acquire property rights in eachother's assets.

Similarly, Rhode Island has not recognized "palimony" actions. The Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Court has found that,

Rhode Island has never recognized a cause of action for palimony. The term "palimony" originated out of the media coverage of the California case Marvin v. Marvin, ..., in which the Supreme Court of California awarded future support to a nonmarital partner in the absence of an express contract. Palimony is "[a] court's award of post-relationship support or compensation for services, money, and goods contributed during a long-term nonmarital relationship, esp[ecially] where a common-law marriage cannot be established." Black's Law Dictionary 1142 (8th ed.2004). Although Rhode Island recognizes common-law marriage, it has not recognized palimony claims.

Norton v. McOsker, 407 F.3d 501, 508 (1st Cir. 2005).

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