or whether it is a form of abstention pursuant to which the federal courts decline to exercise jurisdiction, the foregoing cases suggest the circumstances in which the exception will be applied. Typically it has been applied in situations where the court must delve deeply into family relationships, usually on a continuing basis. Where divorce, alimony, child custody and support for spouse or child are concerned, it is frequently necessary to inquire in great detail into the lives of family members. It is true that divorce may be accomplished in a single decree. However, alimony, custody and support are often, perhaps usually, subject to modification as conditions change, resulting in recurring resort to the courts.
The states have an important interest in these matters. The state courts often have available specialized facilities to assist them in determining the facts, particularly where child custody is involved. There are often specialized courts dealing only with domestic or matrimonial matters. Whatever the theoretical bases for it, there are practical reasons for leaving these kinds of issues involving these kinds of inquiries to the state courts.
III. Application of the Exception in the Present Case
It is necessary to apply the foregoing rationale for the domestic relations exception to determine whether a federal court should reject jurisdiction of a suit arising out of the relationship between unmarried persons who had lived together in a manner which had many of the elements of a conventional marriage. I conclude that the exception will apply only if two conditions are met: first, the state exhibits a significant interest in this kind of relationship akin to the state's interest in the marriage and the parent-child relationships; and, second, in order to protect this interest a court must make the same kinds of inquiries that have traditionally brought into play the domestic relations exception.
The relationship in the present case appears to have had its genesis in New Jersey and it appears that the parties lived in this state during a major portion of their years together. Neither party has suggested that the law of any other state should determine the consequences of their relationship.
It is quite clear from New Jersey cases upon the subject that New Jersey has not given special significance to the phenomenon of unmarried couples. The most that can be said is that the state recognizes and accepts the existence of such a status and will enforce any financial arrangements to which the parties have agreed.
Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, 80 N.J. 378, 403 A.2d 902 (1979), dealt with a suit by a woman who had lived with a man for fifteen years, brought up various of his and her children by other marriages and filled the role of a conventional housewife. The trial court found that in order to induce plaintiff to continue living in that manner "defendant expressly agreed to support plaintiff for the rest of her life". After defendant left plaintiff in pursuit of other romantic interests, plaintiff sought to enforce the agreement.
The New Jersey Supreme Court held that "(s)uch agreements by adult nonmarital partners which are not explicitly and inseparably founded on sexual services are enforceable", 80 N.J. at 385, 403 A.2d 902. It emphasized that the decision was not intended to revive judicially a form of common law marriage previously abolished by statute. The Court was simply enforcing a contract. It recognized that damages were not ascertainable with exactitude, but ruled that the plaintiff in that case was entitled to "a one-time lump sum judgment in an amount predicated upon the present value of the reasonable future support defendant promised to provide, to be computed by reference to her life expectancy as shown by the tables referred to in R.1:13-5", 80 N.J. at 388, 403 A.2d 902.
It might be necessary to go into some of the matters which are relevant in a support action in order to determine the amount of damages to which such a plaintiff is entitled, but it is a one-time inquiry and does not represent a departure from the traditional role of a court in awarding damages in a contract action.
The subsequent case of Crowe v. DeGioia, 179 N.J.Super. 36, 430 A.2d 251 (App.Div.1981), was a suit for damages for breach of an alleged agreement to take care of and support plaintiff for the rest of her life and to share with her his various assets. The Court emphasized that the action was one based strictly on contract and not arising out of the relationship of the parties:
The cause of action is based on an express agreement for support. Kozlowski v. Kozlowski, supra, does not afford cohabiting parties the status and rights which would emanate from a marriage. The relief afforded parties in an action of this nature is strictly limited to damages resulting from a cause of action in contract.