Wisconsin families, like those across the country, can be made up of many different arrangements – the result of active decisions or convenience.

For unmarried couples in Wisconsin, navigating breakups poses unique legal challenges. Every so often, this results in ideas around “palimony” – the marriage of the words “pal” and “alimony” – to address financial support or property division between unmarried adults separating after a period of cohabitation.

While this circumstance may be covered by protections of common law marriage in some states,1 Wisconsin has no such allowance. Wisconsin also does not make any specific allowance for “palimony,” and it is not codified in our statues.

However, there are other statutory provisions that may allow for recovery of contributions to cohabitation relationships, financial or otherwise, which may result in property and asset division or other financial awards to the individuals.

Causes of Action

Because “palimony” is not a cause of action itself and does not fall under Wisconsin’s family law codes, individuals seeking judicial assistance in these separation circumstances must look to other areas of the law.

While no claim is certain to provide an award similar to the outcome of a divorce or legal separation, many individuals considering how to recover after a cohabitation ends may still want to pursue an action.

Unjust Enrichment

Unjust enrichment may be an appropriate claim if one individual leaves the relationship with a disproportionate amount of assets or in a significantly better position than the other individual as a result of the contribution or sacrifice of the worse-off party.

An individual would want to assert that they had made sacrifices and contributions for the benefit of the other party or the relationship jointly, and that the other individual was aware of and accepted the benefits received as a result of the cohabitating relationship. This claim can request financial award, asset division, or partition of real property.

The distribution of assets or repayment of financial contributions may be accomplished through alleging that there was an express or implied agreement between the parties. This can be used in small claims or as a large claims civil suit.

To do this, individuals would need to show a clear agreement, written or verbal, and ideally including a mutual understanding of the terms in the event of separation. An implied agreement may be inferred from the regular conduct of the parties and their handling of assets and finances over the course of the relationship prior to separation.

Partition Action

If the parties purchased personal and real property together and cannot agree on how to equitably divide it, an individual may ask a court to separate the interest.2

A party could ask for a partition even in the event that the real property is only deeded in one party’s name, as long as a showing is made that they financially contributed to it or that it was purchased for the use and benefit of the parties jointly, in certain circumstances.

The claim is more difficult without a joint deed or similar, but the agreements and conduct of the parties may be compelling to a court.


While “palimony” is not codified in Wisconsin, those considering ending a cohabitation arrangement are not without legal recourse.

The end of relationships can be tumultuous, but grounding claims in existing law can smooth some of the way forward for clients.

This article was originally published on the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Family Law Section Blog. Visit the State Bar sections or the Family Law Section web pages to learn more about the benefits of section membership.


1 As of 2022, common law marriage may be recognized in 11 states and the District of Columbia, though many include their own restrictions on how and when such status can be claimed. Some states have abolished common law marriage but recognize those who claimed the status prior to the abolition. The states with existing allowances include Alabama (prior to 2017), Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire (for purposes of inheritance or established in another state), Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina (prior to July 24, 2019), Texas, and Utah (petition the court to recognize the relationship as a marriage).

2 See Wis. Stat. § 820.