You know you can sometimes win a spousal support award in a California divorce, but did you know that in many cases you can also obtain support when you end your nonmarital live-in relationship? Per FindLaw, California is the only state with a unique law that provides for palimony when cohabiting partners end their relationship.
Back in 1971, a woman by the name of Michelle Triola sued her live-in partner, famous actor Lee Marvin, for both half of his property and for “spousal” support when their long-term live-in relationship ended. She alleged that the two of them had made an oral agreement at the beginning of their relationship whereby she agreed to give up her career and devote her time, energy and services to him in exchange for his promise to give her the things for which she sued if and when they split up.
The Marvin case
The high-profile Marvin case became a scandal that tabloids splashed all over their publications for five years while the public eagerly kept up to date on the latest “he said, she said” allegations. When the case reached the appellate court, Michelle won based on the court’s ruling that two cohabiting adults can make an oral contract just as easily as any other two adults and that the relationship itself implies the existence of such a contract. The California Supreme Court agreed with regard to the legality of an oral cohabitation agreement, but ruled for Lee on the grounds that in this specific case, no such contract existed.
The moral to the story is that while California provides for palimony payments in certain circumstances should your cohabitation arrangement come to an end, you would do well to make sure that you and your live-in partner enter into a written contract at the beginning of your relationship. This contract should specifically set out what each of you brings to the relationship and the responsibilities each of you will assume during it. It should also specify to what, if any, property division and palimony arrangements the two of you agree in the event your relationship comes to an end. This is general information and not intended to provide legal advice.