A non-written agreement for cohabitants to share retirement benefits can be enforceable under a breach of contract claim, but will not support claims to impose a constructive trust, or for unjust enrichment or an accounting. Such was the holding of the Appellate Division, Second Department, in its November 13, 2013 decision in Dee v. Rakower.
In the majority opinion written by Justice Leonard B. Austin, the appellate court relied heavily on the facts as pleaded in the complaint. The parties had lived together in a committed, same-sex relationship for nearly 18 years. Two children were born of this relationship; each party being the biological parent of one child, legally adopted by the other.
After the relationship ended in 2007 (before the passage of New York’s Marriage Equality Act [see, Domestic Relations Law §§ 10-a, 10-b]), Ms. Dee commenced this action seeking to enforce the alleged oral “joint venture/partnership” agreement. Under that agreement, Ms. Dee was to share in assets, including Ms. Rakower’s retirement contributions and earnings, in exchange for Ms. Dee leaving her full-time job to care for the parties’ children.
Before they had children, each party was employed full-time, earning a salary and retirement benefits. The parties pooled their respective salaries to meet their shared expenses. The parties purchased a house as joint tenants with rights of survivorship.
After the parties’ first child was born, the parties agreed, it was alleged, that given the cost of child care, Ms. Dee would eschew her full-time employment and work part-time so that she could be home with the children and perform other non-financial services for the benefit of the family and for the parties’ partnership and/or joint venture while Ms Rakower would continue to work full-time. Ms. Dee alleged that her decision to leave her full-time employment was based upon the parties’ specific agreement that Ms. Dee would be entitled to one half of Ms. Rakower’s retirement contributions and earnings for the period.
Ms. Rakower moved to dismiss Ms. Dee’s complaint. Kings County Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Lewis granted that motion, determining that the facts did not support causes of action for breach of contract, to impose a constructive trust, for unjust enrichment or for an accounting.
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