Do Unmarried Couples Who Live Together Have Community Property Rights?

The Pew Research Center recently reported that a record number of Americans aged 25 and older – about 42 million people – have never been married. Those who say one should never get married before age 30 are not entirely correct, however, as unmarried people have special issues of their own. In California, one large subset of unmarried people – cohabitants – generally have no right to support from each other and no interest in or right to use any property that the other cohabitant has acquired.

Long-term cohabitation by itself does not change that. Contrary to what many believe, California has not recognized “common law marriage” since 1895. Consequently, “©ohabitation, and holding out to the world that the persons so cohabiting are married, .  . .do not of themselves constitute marriage,” and “nonmarital cohabitation does not confer any special privilege over and above those of other[s].” To put it another way, girlfriend and boyfriend rights do not exist.

On the other hand, every rule has its exceptions. One exception to the rule that unmarried cohabitants have no spouse-like rights or duties is when a Marvin agreement exists. This agreement derives its name from the famous case of Marvin v. Marvin. That case arose after actor Lee Marvin of “The Dirty Dozen” fame kicked out ex-girlfriend Michelle Triola out of his house and supporting her.

Triola fired back at Marvin with a lawsuit for breach of contract and demanded support, sometimes called “palimony”. Triola alleged that she and Marvin agreed he would support her “for life” if she gave up her “lucrative career as an entertainer [and] singer” and devoted herself to providing him full-time services as a companion, housekeeper, and cook. Marvin countered that the agreement was void because it was based on “meretricious” services. The trial court agreed with Marvin and threw out Triola’s lawsuit.

The California Supreme Court reversed. In so doing, the Court held that an express agreement between nonmarital partners was enforceable “except to the extent that the contract is explicitly founded on…meretricious sexual services”; that an implied agreement was also enforceable; and that a nonmarital partner could recover restitution and other forms of equitable relief even if no agreement existed. Four years later, Marvin won the battle with Triola, but the term Marvin agreement stuck.

Marvin is highly relevant in today’s world. Many unmarried cohabitants form express and implied agreements all the time without realizing it. If you were or still are an unmarried cohabitant and you believe your partner has breached a Marvin agreement, do not hesitate to call an expert Los Angeles family law attorney.

For more information, or to discuss potential cohabitation issues, contact the family lawyers at Walzer Melcher LLP today.

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