A Chronological Summary of California "Palimony" Law Since Marvin

..........This article consists of a chronological summary of Marvin-type cases in California beginning with the Marvin decision, plus a few non-California cases of particular note.

1. Marvin vs. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660 [134 Cal.Rptr. 815]: While the provisions of the Family Law Act do not govern the distribution of property acquired during a non-marital relationship, the courts should enforce express contracts between cohabitants except to the extent that the contract is explicitly founded on the consideration of meretricious sexual services. In the absence of an express contract, the court 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, and may also employ the doctrine of quantum meruit, or equitable remedies such as constructive or resulting trusts.

2. Henderson vs. Superior Court (1978) 77 Cal.App.3d 583 [142 Cal.Rptr. 478]: "Marvin" contracts are governed by the law of the jurisdiction in which the contract is made and performed, and in which the parties are domiciled. The case contains strong language discouraging forum shopping in California. (Held: Court had no personal jurisdiction over Florida resident, and even assuming it did, California was an inconvenient forum.)

3. Feldman vs. Nassi (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d 881 [169 Cal.Rptr. 9]: A Complaint alleging the existence of a cohabitation agreement was good against defendant's demurrer made on the grounds that the agreement violated public policy because it was promotive of a dissolution of defendant's existing marriage and because it impaired the community property rights of his wife, from whom he was separated. The issues of whether or not the defendant's marriage was beyond redemption at the time of his agreement with plaintiff and whether or not his wife's community property interest in his accumulations subsequent to his separation from her had been terminated by statutory law, were questions of fact not to be resolved on demurrer.

4. Estate of Fincher (1981)119 Cal.App.3d 343 [174 Cal.Rptr. 18]: The probate court has jurisdiction to determine a widow's claims against the decedent's estate under an implied oral contract for periods of time the parties had lived together prior to their marriage. When the widow voluntarily terminated her original cohabitation with decedent in 1971, any cause of action she may have had as a result of that relationship accrued at that time, and therefore the limitation period had clearly run by the time the claim was asserted in 1978.

5. Jones vs. Daly (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 500 [176 Cal.Rptr. 130]: Demurrer is properly sustained where the complaint alleges that male cohabitants engaged in sexual activities agreed to cohabit and to hold themselves out to the public as cohabiting mates, and entered into a "cohabitor's agreement," whereby plaintiff was to render services to Daly as a lover. The complaint showed the surviving partner's rendition of sexual services was an inseparable part and the predominant part of the consideration for the agreement, and a court will not enforce a contract for the pooling of property and earnings if it is explicitly and inseperably based on services as a paramour.

6. Marvin vs. Marvin ("Marvin II") (1981) 122 Cal.App.3d 871 [176 Cal.Rptr. 555]: An order requiring rehabilitation payments to a woman by the man with whom she had cohabited for 6 years was invalid where the trial court expressly found that plaintiff benefited economically and socially from her relationship with defendant and suffered no damage therefrom, even with respect to its termination, and also expressly found that defendant never had any obligation to pay plaintiff a reasonable sum as and for her maintenance, that defendant had not unjustly enriched himself by reason of the relationship or its termination, and that defendant had never acquired anything of value from plaintiff by any wrongful act. There is nothing in the trial court's findings to suggest that such an award is warranted to protect the expectations of both parties, and the award is not within the issues of the case as framed by the pleadings.

7. In Re Marriage Of Johnson (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 57 [191 Cal.Rptr. 545]: The provisions of the Family Law Act do not govern the distribution of property acquired by a couple during cohabitation before marriage; therefore, in a dissolution of marriage proceeding, the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the wife's cohabitation claim. The wife is not precluded from filing a Marvin action and moving to consolidate it with the dissolution proceedings.

8. Watkins vs. Watkins (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 651 [192 Cal.Rptr. 54]: Where unmarried persons who are living together enter into an implied agreement acknowledged by Marvin vs. Marvin, and the parties later marry, the Marvin agreement is enforceable after marriage.

9. Taylor vs. Polackwich (1983) 145 Cal.App.3d 1014 [194 Cal.Rptr. 8]:

..........A. In a Marvin action, there was no legal or equitable basis for the trial court's rehabilitative award to plaintiff that included the right to live in defendant's house for several years conditioned upon the payment of rent, and awarded the furniture, furnishings, and appliances in the house, and an award of moving costs to be paid by defendant. The jury found there was no implied contract between the parties that property they acquired while living together was their joint property, and the trial court determined plaintiff had no equitable interest in any property held by defendant. Furthermore, the complaint did not allege, nor did the evidence show, that defendant agreed to provide plaintiff with financial support in the event the parties ceased living together.

..........B. In a Marvin action, the judgment that plaintiff was not entitled to an interest in the house on the theory of constructive trust was supported by evidence showing the parties agreed the house belonged to defendant during his lifetime and plaintiff acquired no interest in it, the money plaintiff deposited every month in defendant's checking account was a rental payment, not a mortgage payment, the parties agreed plaintiff could live in the house only so long as the parties maintained their relationship, and defendant's contributions to the support of plaintiff and her children were equal to, if not greater than, the contributions to the household made by plaintiff in the form of services and money.

..........C. One who claims the ownership of property, legal title to which is in the name of another, must establish the claim by clear, satisfactory, and convincing evidence.

10. Nelson vs. Nevel (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 132 [201 Cal.Rptr. 93]: A complaint filed by a woman against a man seeking to recover her share of certain real property acquired by the parties while they were living together, and which was held in the man's name, could be amended to state a cause of action based strictly in equity. She alleged that the man would be unjustly enriched if he was allowed to retain her interest in the property along with his own and requested that the court order an accounting and order the man to hold the property for her under a constructive trust. She was not required to allege a confidential or fiduciary relationship in order to sufficiently plead that form of relief. She could also request the court to find that a resulting trust arose in her favor. (Note 4-year statute of limitations applied per California Code of Procedure § 343).

11. Toney vs. Nolder (1985) 173 Cal.App.3d 791 [219 Cal.R6tr. 497]: There is no "confidential relationship" exception to the rule that an oral trust in derogation of title must be shown only by clear and convincing evidence. Thus, in an action for dissolution of a partnership, an accounting, and distribution of the proceeds, in which action plaintiff alleged that he and defendant (with whom he was romantically involved) had entered into an oral partnership agreement to buy a house and that defendant had taken title in her sole name to prevent plaintiff's ex-wife from executing on the property, the trial court erred in granting judgment for plaintiff based on such exception, where the court found that the existence of the oral partnership was supported only by a preponderance of the evidence.

12. Taylor vs. Fields (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 653 [224 Cal.Rptr. 186]: Cohabitation is a "prerequisite" for recovery under a Marvin theory. (This holding is untenable -- See discussion in California "Palimony" Law -- An Overview. See also Mileon v. De Leon, summarized below.) Further, given the nature of the relationship between a legally married man and his mistress, any property agreements between the two would necessarily be based on meretricious consideration, and would thus be unenforceable for that reason.

13. In Re Marriage Of Bukaty (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 143 [225 Cal.Rptr. 492]: An award of spousal support may not be based on the parties' prior cohabitation. In this case, the wife's counsel attempted to introduce evidence of the parties' prior marriage and non-marital relationship, arguing that it was relevant to the duration of the marriage. The court held that the Family Law Act does not apply to a non-marital relationship, and that any right to support attributable to the period of cohabitation would be a Marvin right and could be asserted only in a separate civil action, and not in a proceeding under the Family Law Act. See also: In re Marriage of Hebbring (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1260 [255 Cal.Rptr. 488]; In re Marriage of Johnson (1983) 143 Cal.App.3d 57 [191 Cal.Rptr. 545]; In re Marriage of Lucero (1981) 118 Cal.App.3d 836 [173 Cal.Rptr. 680].

14. Schafer vs. Superior Court (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 305 [225 Cal.Rptr. 513]: A Marvin cause of action is not a family law matter and should therefore not be processed in the Superior Court under the special family law rules. In this case, for example, the court had ordered a hearing on the issue of pendente lite support, even though in a strictly civil matter no such order could be made. In Marvin cases, the rights of the parties must rest on contract principles, and Marvin plaintiffs must be treated like other civil plaintiffs and follow the same rules and have the same rights as litigants in contract cases generally.

15. Alderson vs. Alderson (1986) 180 Cal.App.3d 450 [225 Cal.Rptr. 610]: A property agreement was implied between unmarried parties living together on facts not dissimilar to the facts alleged in Marvin. Jones vs. Daly does not change the result in Marvin that if a cohabiting couple engages in a sexual relationship, that in itself does not make a property agreement between them unenforceable as resting upon a consideration of meretricious sexual services.

16. Milian vs. De Leon (1986) 181 Cal.App.3d 1185 [226 Cal.Rptr. 831]: Cohabitation is not a prerequisite to the finding of an implied agreement between unmarried persons concerning their property. The only limitation upon the right of unmarried persons to contract with respect to their property and financial arrangements is that the contract must not be illegal or against public policy. Such an agreement is unenforceable only to the extent that it explicitly rests upon the immoral and illicit consideration of meretricious sexual services. In an action for partition of property that was acquired by an unmarried couple who never cohabited, the trial court's finding that the parties agreed to own and divide the property equally, irrespective of the exact dollar amounts each contributed, was supported by substantial evidence, where the arrangement between the parties, viewed in its entirety, gave rise to a strong inference that each party to contribute what he or she could and that irrespective of the inequality of their contributions, the property would be owned equally.

17. Kroopf vs. Guffey (1986) 183 Cal.App.3d 1351 [228 Cal.Rptr. 807]: The jurisdiction standards in family law cases are not applicable to a Marvin action because the controversy is not a domestic relations/family law case, but a regular civil case.

18. Tannehill vs. Finch (1986) 188 Cal.App.3d 224, [232 Cal.Rptr. 749]: A Marvin action falls within the provisions of Evidence Code section 662, and thus, when title to property is involved, the plaintiff must prove her claims by clear and convincing evidence.

19. Niermeyer v. Doyle (1986) 70 B.R. 106: Obligation of Marvin defendant to pay support pursuant to a stipulated judgment is dischargeable in bankruptcy. "[A]ny obligation owing to the non-married partner arises from contractual obligations and not from an inherent right to such obligation."

20. Bower v. Weisman (D.C.N.Y. 1986) 650 F.Supp. 1415: A promise to forebear from getting married, moving in with someone else, or returning to Japan was sufficient consideration for a promise to pay living expenses, and the existence of love and affection between the parties does not nullify the existence of otherwise valid consideration. A promise to continue to take care of living expenses "the way I did last year" is not too indefinite to be enforced, because determining last years' expenses is just a matter of accounting. Taylor v. Fields does not require the plaintiff to "affirmatively" allege that the agreement does not rest on meretricious consideration.

21. Bower v. Weisman (D.C.N.Y. 1987) 674 F.Supp. 109: Plaintiff's sexual relationships with other men did not by definition deprive the defendant in a Marvin action of the benefit of his bargain. However, her sexual relationships might be relevant if one of the terms of the contract was that Plaintiff had to forebear from sex with all other men other than defendant. Whether such a contractual term was implied is a factually disputed issue which cannot be decided on summary judgment.

22. Kurokawa v. Blum (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 976 [245 Cal.Rptr. 463]: Trial court properly granted defendant's motion for summary judgment on basis of two-year bar of statute of limitations (California Code of Civil Procedure § 339) in Marvin action where plaintiff waited twelve years after parties had separated before bringing suit. Oral promises by defendant to cohabit with and support plaintiff made after they separated were insufficient as a matter of law to renew the time-barred primary oral contract, and were not legally binding since they were gratuitous and consideration was lacking.

23. Whorton v. Dillingham (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 447 [248 Cal.Rptr. 411]: Plaintiff stated a valid Marvin cause of action where he entered into an oral cohabitation agreement with defendant that explicitly itemized plaintiff's duties as defendant's chauffeur, bodyguard, secretary, business partner, and homosexual lover, since by itemizing his obligations and thus showing that he was not receiving consideration solely for meretricious duties, plaintiff had created a "severable portion of the contract supported by independent consideration" (Marvin, 18 Cal. 3d 660, 672) (emphasis in original) that allowed the court to find as a matter of law that the entire contract was not voidable as being based solely upon a consideration of sexual services; note that the parties specifically had agreed that any part of the contract found legally unenforceble was severable from the rest of the contract.

24. Bergen v. Wood (1993) 14 Cal.App.4th 854 [18 Cal.Rptr.2d 75]. Services as a social companion and hostess are inextricably intertwined with the sexual relationship between the parties and therefore do not form lawful consideration supporting a Marvin agreement. Also: cohabitation is required for recovery under Marvin because from cohabitation flows the rendition of domestic serevices which amount to lawful consideration for a contract.

25. Friedman v. Friedman (1993) 20 Cal.App.4th 876 [24 Cal.Rptr.2d 892]. A Marvin plaintiff is not entitled to pendente lite support because the remedy at law (a suit for damages) is adequate. Also: court held that there was no evidence of an implied contract for support despite 21 year relationship, two children, taking of property of husband and wife, marriage plans, and post-relationship payments of $190,000.

26. Byrne v. Laura (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 1054 [60 Cal.Rptr.2d 908]. In probate proceedings in which the decedent's unmarried cohabitant sought to enforce an oral agreement that decedent would support her for the rest of her life and that someday she would have all his assets, the Court of Appeal reversed a summary judgment for the Defendant and held:

..........A. Oral promise of support is enforceable. Probate Code §150 is inapplicable because an agreement for lifetime support is not a contract to make a will.

..........B. Contract to support was not too uncertain to enforce. Modern trend disfavors holding contracts unenforceable for uncertainty. Evidence showed decedent expected to provide for Plaintiff's support, and that expectation should be fulfilled. How much support was intended may be resolved in light of extrinsic evidence, including evidence of standard of living.

..........C. Contract that all assets would someday be Plaintiff's was enforceable. Agreement was subject to statute of frauds, either Civil Code §683 (joint tenancy), Probate Code §150 (will) or 15206 (trust for real property). However, equitable estoppel to assert the statute of frauds is a question of fact. Trier of fact could find that Plaintiff seriously changed her position by moving in with decedent, performing the duties of a spouse, and retiring from her job. To extent the contract was for a joint tenancy, the Byrne court declines to follow Estate of Seibert (1990) 226 Cal.App.3d 338 [276 Cal.Rptr. 508], which holds that joint tenancy agreements are not subject to the doctrine of equitable estoppel. Even if Plaintiff performed services out of love, that does not defeat argument for equitable estoppel. It is not necessary that her services be "unequivocally referable" to the contract, so long as she "seriously" changed her position and would suffer "unconscionable" injury.

..........D. The plaintiff may seek quasi-specific performance of property agreement with respect to assets such as the residence and family heirlooms for which damages may be an inadequate remedy.

..........E. Distribution under the will can be enjoined pending the trial of the Plaintiff's claims.

27. Cochran v. Cochran (1997) 56 Cal.App.4th 378 [__ Cal.Rptr.2nd __]. The statute of limitations on a Marvin contract for support did not begin to run when the relationship ended and the Defendant married another woman, when the Defendant continued to make support payments. No breach of contract occurred while the support obligation was being met. To the extent that Estate of Fincher (1981) 119 Cal.App.3d 343 [174 Cal.Rptr. 18], Whorton v. Dillingham (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 447 [248 Cal.Rptr. 405] or Kurokawa v. Blum (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 976, 989 [245 Cal.Rptr. 463] stand for the blanket proposition that all Marvin agreements are automatically breached once the parties end their relationship, the court refuses to follow such a rule.

..........The information on this Web page is based on California law. It is not legal advice and cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your State based on the specific facts and circumstances of your case. See Disclaimer.