While spousal support follows in most dissolution proceedings in the form of alimony, non-marital couples who cohabitate have the possibility of bringing a Marvin action. A Marvin action is brought by a partner who wants to equally divide property acquired during the non-marital relationship where the partners lived together. There is also a possibility that non-marital cohabitating partners can ask for partner support following the dissolution of the non-marital cohabitation.
ALIMONY v. PALIMONY:
Alimony is a legal obligation to support a spouse following a dissolution of marriage in family court; the amount of support is determined by California’s Family Code (see §4320), or can be agreed to in a premarital agreement. Palimony is support payments granted to non-marital partners who lived together. Palimony is not guaranteed by law, and is generally granted in civil court after a showing of a contract or an agreement.
This agreement may either be express (written) or implied (by conduct).
The process of property distribution or the length and amount of any support in a Marvin action will be determined by the agreement of partners. Termination of partner support will also be decided by the contract (unlike alimony for marital couples which is determined by the Family Code (see §4337)). Unlike alimony, judges do not have the power to modify palimony because of “changed circumstances” (see Family Code §4337 and Dexter v. Dexter). There are also different tax implications between alimony and palimony.
If the partner who asks for an equal split of property that was purchased during cohabitation or partner support cannot prove a contract, then there is a possibility for recovery in quantum meruit (see below).
Unlike alimony cases for marital couples (where the right arises automatically by law), the right to palimony comes to existence with a contract. A cohabitation agreement, similar to a premarital agreement, would be an example of an express contract.
Filing a claim for both Marvin Support and Spousal Support:
There is a possibility that a person can have a claim for both alimony and palimony. If the couple cohabitated and acquired property (which would legally be classified as separate property), and then married (property is acquired as community property during marriage, generally), an individual can ask for palimony in civil court and still have a right to alimony in family court. This can be desirable if the couple lived together for a long time, but had a short term marriage. It is possible to consolidate the two proceedings, depending on what would be most advantageous to the person’s best interest (see Watkins v. Watkins).
If an express contract does not exist, an implied contract may be proven. “In the absence of an express contract, the courts should inquire into the conduct of the parties to determine whether that conduct demonstrates an implied contract, agreement of partnership or joint venture, or some other tacit understanding between the parties,” California courts state (see Marvin v. Marvin).
However, whether equal distribution or support is pursued as an express or implied contract, it is important to keep in mind “both types are based upon the expressed or apparent intention of the parties” (see Maglica v. Maglica).
Equal Division of Assets Acquired During Cohabitation
Proving an implied contract through behaviors and conduct could be difficult. California case law has given some guidance on what behavior can manifest intent to imply an agreement to equally split the property if the couple breaks up.
Evidence the parties impliedly agreed to share equally in their acquisitions includes the following: the testimony of a partner, if the partners socially held themselves out as spouses, if the partners (and children) took on the same last name, if the partners pooled their financial resources and used the pooled income to purchase property, how property title was taken, and if the partner rendered services or paid bills on the property in dispute (see Alderson v. Alderson).
“Such facts, together with others bearing more directly on the [property] and the way the parties treated the equity and proceeds of the [property], can be part of a series of facts which do show an agreement,” California case law has affirmed (see Maglica v. Maglica). To clarify, “While the facts that a couple live together, hold themselves out as married, and act as companions and confidants toward each other do not, by themselves, show an implied agreement to share property, those facts, when taken together and in conjunction with other facts bearing more directly on the alleged arrangement to share property, can show an implied agreement to share property” (see Maglica v. Maglica).
Proving the existence of a implied contract for one partner to support the other partner after a break up is more difficult. An agreement for non-marital partner support (palimony) cannot be based on the parties’ prior cohabitation (see In re Marriage of Bukaty).
In a California Marvin action for temporary partner support following the end of 21 years of cohabitation, the ‘wife’ testified that she and the ‘husband’ agreed expressly (at one time) that he would support her if the couple separated. ‘Wife’ testified that ‘husband’ “said not to worry about support” (see Friedman v. Friedman). ‘Husband’ testified the couple never discussed the concept of support after separation. ‘Husband’ also testified that he did nothing he was aware of to lead ‘wife’ to believe he would provide support for her if they separated.
The court sided with the ‘husband’ because, the court reasoned, “the statement of decision does not reflect what specific conduct of the parties led to its conclusion that such an implied agreement existed…moreover, the statement of decision fails to set forth the terms of the implied agreement…” The appellate court was not convinced that an implied agreement existed because many questions were left unanswered regarding support: the amount of support, the length of time support would last, from what moment in the relationship support would be paid.
While a trial court ruled in ‘wife’s’ favor for temporary partner support “in the same manner as if the parties had been legally married,” on appeals, the court said that would be a revival common law marriage in California. And California is clear in that if a couple wants the same rights of a married couple, then they should get married (or file as domestic partners). Mr. and Ms. Friedman planned a wedding during the 21 years of their cohabitation, but never married. The parties specifically chose to live together without the ‘sanction of the State’ (and the legal protection that sanction brings).
At the heart of an implied contract is the intent to promise. When a couple does not clarify what will happen if a break up occurs, it is hard to prove that intent.
QUANTUM MERUIT (“As much as he deserves”)
Quantum meruit is a Latin term for ‘as much as he deserves.’ It is the idea that someone should get paid for beneficial goods or services which he or she bestows on another (see Maglica v. Maglica). If a contract cannot be proven, then recovery for value of services rendered may be recovered in quantum meruit.
It is common for a person without a contract or a marriage to devote his or her efforts to their cohabitant and later seek compensation for those efforts. However, there is a two-year statute of limitation (the amount of time a person has to bring a legal claim), which leads to the questions of for how many years of service is compensation owed?
Compensation for the last two years, or for the service throughout the entire cohabitation/relationship?
This answer depends on when the person asking for compensation expected to be compensated. It is not typical for partners to expect financial compensation for their work and effort while still in the relationship (imagine if a spouse asked for an hourly fee for cooking dinner).
But there is an expectation of compensation, California courts have decided. “The fictitious implied promise to pay for services inherent in the relationship entailed another fictitious promise to pay at termination of the services,” California courts have determined (see Lazzarevich v. Lazzarevich). If a couple acts like they are married, then the partner in a Marvin relationship can try to assert that he or she expected compensation “at the termination of the relationship” (see Maglica v. Maglica). Because partners do not expect to be financially compensated for their services (which are inherent in a relationship) during the relationship, a ‘fictitious’ promise to pay may be implied at the termination of the services (which usually follows the end of the relationship). This means that a partner might be able to get compensation for services rendered from the beginning of the Marvin relationship, even if the relationship is over two years old.
(A constructive or resulting trust may also be an option for a partner in a Marvin action as equitable remedies.)
Marvin actions can be highly contested. A clear intent (ideally written) helps the situation. Sometimes a judicial conclusion may be “harsh” (Bukaty), but the judge is ‘bound by the laws as they are found, not as the judge fervently wishes them to be (Friedman).’