Morone v. Morone – Case Brief

Morone v. Morone, 50 N.Y.2d 481, 429 N.Y.S.2d 592, 413 N.E.2d 1154 (N.Y. 1980).

Facts: “Mrs.” Morone (P) alleged that she and “Mr.” Morone (D) had lived together and held themselves out as husband and wife since 1952. The Morones had two children together and filed joint tax returns. P sought $250,000 compensation for domestic services under the theory that a contract implied-in-fact had formed between the couple. P also pursued a claim under the theory that they had formed a partnership agreement. The trial court dismissed the complaint and P appealed.

Issue: Can a contract to share earnings and assets be implied-in-fact from the relationship of a cohabitating, unmarried couple?

Holding and Rule: No. A contract to share earnings and assets cannot be implied-in-fact from the relationship of a cohabitating, unmarried couple.

Historically, for a contract between members of a cohabitating unmarried couple to be enforceable, the court required the explicit and structured understanding of an express contract, and did not recognize contracts implied-in-fact from the rendition and acceptance of housewifely duties. The court held that it is not reasonable to imply a contract when the relationship of the parties makes it natural that the services were rendered gratuitously. These services will be rendered as between those living together because they value each other’s company or because they find it convenient to do so. The nature of the relationship and the private dealings between the parties make it too difficult for a court to sort out intentions in hindsight of a failed relationship.

Disposition: Affirmed; for D.

Notes: The court in this case noted that New York did not recognize common law marriage at the time this opinion was written. Express contracts between members of a cohabitating, unmarried couple can be enforced, but they must be established with clear and convincing evidence.

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