Morone v. Morone

Court of Appeals of New York, 1980.

50 N.Y.2d 481, 429 N.Y.S.2d 592, 413 N.E.2d 1154.

Dawson, pp. 452-455


Facts: The Morones were never officially married but lived together for many years.  The “wife” sued for the value of the household services she provided her “husband” on two theories: (1) as a contract implied-in-fact between the cohabitating couple and (2) as an express contract formed between the two.  The trial court dismissed the complaint in full, and the intermediate appellate court affirmed on a slightly different basis.  The “wife” appealed to the Court of Appeals of New York.


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


Rule: Personal services rendered between the couple will not constitute a contract implied-in-fact because such services are ordinarily understood to be gratuitous.


Analysis: The court says 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 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 the state of New York had previously outlawed common law marriage, partly because it caused too much needless litigation.


Conclusion: The “implied-in-fact” part of the complaint is dismissed.


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