How Strong is your Marvin Action, or Non-Marital Cohabitation Claim?

The following is a check list of possible evidence to help guide the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of your “Marvin Action” claim. These cases are not black and white, but often have positive and negative facts to consider and weigh; which is exactly what a judge or a jury would do. A variety of facts, witnesses and documents are taken into account.

1. Length of Cohabitation and Relationship

  • A Marvin Action is a lawsuit for support (often called “Palimony”) and/or for the division of property accumulated while two parties lived together but were not married. The longer you have lived together, the stronger your claim is likely to be.
  • Shorter relationships can still give rise to strong facts, but the more time usually denotes a more compelling case.

2. Did you have an “Express Contract” or an “Implied Contract”?

  • An express contract is where the parties made an agreement in words, either orally, or in writing, to share property and/or support one another in some way.
  • An implied contract is where the parties’ agreement to share property and/or to support one another was not articulated in words but was expressed and shown by their conduct repeatedly over time.
  • Was the arrangement clear, based on the way the parties conducted themselves?

3. Did you Raise or have Children Together?

  • Child custody and child support are handled in a separate case.
  • The fact that a couple had, adopted, and/or raised children together tends to show a long-term, permanent, marriage-like relationship.

4. One Party has given up a Job/Career/Other Opportunities for Mutual Benefit of the Other.

  • Did one party give up a job or other opportunities to take care of children or to run a household so the other partner could focus on their career goals?
  • Did one party repeatedly ask the other not to work?
  • Did one party work for no or decreased compensation in a joint business so as to increase the value of the business, maximize tax benefits and/or parties’ shared income?
  • Did one party have other, non-work opportunities that he or she sacrificed for the good of the group, or at the request of the other?
  • Did one party give up the opportunity to contribute to retirement accounts by not working?

5. Evidence of Agreement

  • Cards, letters, emails, social media, etc., that show an agreement to share property and/or provide for one another’s support.
  • Witnesses who heard or observed the parties’ discussion of an agreement, or their desire to share property or provide future support.
  • Shared title to any real estate, business or other property.
  • Joint bank accounts, credit cards or retirement accounts.
  • Both parties possess the same health, dental or other type of wills, trusts, estate plans, or insurance policies.

6. Documentation Showing Marital Status

Although you were never married you have indicated to others that you are by:

  • Using the same last name as partner on any documents or forms.
  • Indication of “married” status on documents
  • Examples of documents to review:
    • Children’s birth certificates
    • Tax documents
    • Emergency notification forms
    • Grant deeds
    • Wills, trusts and tax returns
    • Notes, letters, cards, emails, social media

7. Joint Title is Evidence of an Agreement to Share Ownership

Types of documents evidencing joint ownership:

  • Deeds to real property
  • Persons listed on the mortgage/equity line(s)
  • Vehicle registration
  • Corporate documents:
    • Shareholder certificates
    • By-laws
    • Articles of Incorporation
    • Shareholder agreements
    • Statement of information
    • Corporate minutes

Joint Financial Accounts such as:

  • Joint checking or savings
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • A revocable or irrevocable trust or other wills, trusts, and/or testamentary instruments.

8. These Documents are also Evidence of a “Marvin” Type Agreement

  • Life insurance policies
  • Joint credit cards
  • Joint loan applications
  • Joint lines of credit
  • Payments or transfers of funds between parties, or by one party to obligations in the name of the other.
  • Both parties on the mortgage to real property
  • Parties jointly listed on insurance (e.g., joint auto, medical, dental insurance)
    — In such cases, parties are usually listed as married, or as domestic partners on the insurance

9. Holding Yourself Out to the World as Married

  • This may be evidence that the parties agreed to treat each other as if married.
  • What witnesses can testify to this?
  • Did you have a commitment ceremony, or marriage in your cultural or religious tradition only?
  • Documents:
    • Birthday cards, greeting cards, anniversary cards, announcements, social media, love letters, etc.
    • Insurance applications
    • Tax returns
    • The parties using the same last name in written documents

10. An Explanation Why the Parties were not Married or Registered Domestic Partners

It can be relatively quick and inexpensive to get married. Successful Marvin Action plaintiffs will usually have a logical explanation as to why they did not get married even though the parties agreed they would have marriage-like rights. Some examples include:

  • The other party claimed getting married would destroy his/her credit and would prevent the parties from purchasing real property or other investments.
  • To shield assets from being seized by creditors.
  • Religious, cultural or family reasons.
  • To prevent the termination of spousal support received from a prior divorce.
  • Because one or both parties had a prior bad experience with marriage.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Lauren on a case that turns out to be very involved and complicated with real estate and tax issues during my separation process with my ex-partner. As Lauren explained it to me this was a Marvin case which is a very specialized field in Family Law that not many lawyers are aware of, and need special legal attention to details. Lauren and her office staff helped me with understanding the situation that I was in, my leverage in the case, and how I can go about it. As it turned out, it was a lot more complicated than I thought and I could not have got through and got what I deserved without her help and knowledge. My understanding of the Marvin cases was very minimal and this was a very steep learning curve for me which Lauren had a great input and expertise in. I am very glad about my choice of using her as my attorney in my case, and I highly recommend her for anyone who is looking for an attorney that is very detail oriented, prompt, and competent to see a case through. Lauren cares for her clients deeply, and makes sure they are taken care of. This is a trait that is pretty rare in the environment we are living in.”

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