Marvin Actions / Non-Marital Cohabitation Cases

Understanding the Law for Cohabitating Partners

The term Marvin Action refers to civil court actions brought by individuals who have been cohabitating with a partner, without being married. This term comes from the landmark Marvin v. Marvin, California Supreme Court case. This is a 1976 case that involved a woman, Michelle Marvin, who was seeking support payments (or “palimony”) and half of the property acquired during her lengthy relationship with actor Lee Marvin after their relationship ended.

The 1976 California Supreme Court decision in Marvin v. Marvin held that:

“Non-marital partners have the right to enforce express or implied agreements for support or property sharing in the event of separation.”

Express or implied agreements between same-sex couples are just as enforceable as those between Marvin claimants of opposite sex. The judge or jury focuses on whether there was an agreement supported by lawful consideration and what the terms of such agreements are. The gender or sexual orientation of the claimants is not relevant.

Filing a Claim

A Marvin Action is not a family law matter. Thus, it must be filed as a civil action in civil court.

Unlike family law, with a Marvin Action, there are “statutes of limitations”. These are deadlines to file the lawsuit based on the specific claim or claims that you are bringing. These claims may include breach of express or implied contract, implied partnership agreement or joint venture, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, partition of real estate, requests for return of funds, and many others. It all depends on the facts. Each of these different claims has a different deadline by which the lawsuit must be filed. If a lawsuit is not timely, you may not be able to pursue your claims. Statutes of limitation can be very serious!

Sometimes, a couple may have both a Marvin Action and a divorce if living together for a considerable time prior to marriage, or even after separation. The Law Office of Lauren Mullee can handle those cases as your one stop shop!

There are three primary factors that we look for in a Marvin Action in order to assess strengths and weaknesses.

  • Was there an implied, written and/or verbal contract between the parties that was violated in some way? (Examples include: alleged agreement to share property acquisitions equally and/or provide “lifetime” support for some period of time, also known as “palimony”.)
  • Is there evidence to support the breach of agreement? Examples include evidence that may be found in many different sources, such as joint bank accounts, real property documentation, wills and trusts, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, credit cards, greeting cards, texts, letters or emails.
  • What are the damages? Are they substantial and does the party that is being sued have sufficient funds to pay the damages? What did the party who was harmed, sacrifice? How is he or she injured? How are things different now, than if the individual had not relied upon the agreements reached with his or her partner.

Evaluating a Claim

The cost to bring a civil court action through trial is considerable. Most cases resolve prior to trial, and we value settlement highly at The Law Office of Lauren Mullee. However, not all claims can be resolved before trial. Thus, it is important for people on both sides of the case to evaluate their circumstances in detail, so they can determine whether a robust and valuable claim is present. It is also vital to ascertain if the evidence that can be presented will be strong and compelling enough to a judge or jury. After all, claims have to be proven. If your proof is strong, that makes your settlement position strong as well.

Issues to Consider

  • Length of the relationship.
  • Did one party give up his/her career to support the other party’s career aspirations?
  • Did both parties contribute to the purchase of any real property? What was the arrangement?
  • Did both parties open, start, run or operate a business? What was each party’s role? Was each party adequately compensated for his or her efforts?
  • Did one party perform valuable, and often uncompensated, services that the other benefited from?
  • Did the parties work together to create anything of value? What? How did each contribute?
  • Did the parties pool their finances, or make decisions together about investments, retirement accounts, savings, expenses and/or other expenditures?
  • Did any joint accounts exist or was one person on the other’s health insurance policy, life insurance policy or 401K as a beneficiary, or the like?
  • Was there an express or implied agreement to share property or for one party to support the other?

Defending a Claim

Marvin Action claims are subject to a variety of potential legal defenses. The easiest is that the evidence simply does not support the claims being made. Some individuals bringing non-marital cohabitation claims are doing so out of spite and anger over the relationship ending. That’s not enough to create a strong case. There is no legal redress for a relationship ending. The person initiating the case needs to demonstrate evidence of legal claims, far beyond just upset feelings.

Some additional examples of legal defenses include:

  • Expiration of the statute of limitations.
  • Meretricious consideration; where sexual acts form an inseparable part of the contract. That’s unlawful and cannot be the basis of an agreement.
  • Lack of mutuality.
  • Plaintiff breached the contract.
  • The strong legal presumption in favor of the owner of legal title for real property.
  • Defense of “unclean hands” meaning that the person initiating the case should not be entitled to obtain an equitable remedy because he/she has acted unethically or in bad faith.

Whether you call them palimony cases, non-marital cohabitation cases, or Marvin Actions, no one knows them like The Law Office of Lauren Mullee. If you have separated from your partner or are thinking of doing so and wish to know your legal options, we have unparalleled success in positioning you for the strongest case possible. Let us know how we can help you!

“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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