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What if a False Claim of Marriage is filed in Family Law Court?

A scenario in a so-called Marvin Action between cohabitating adults who’ve split up might start with one of the partners, called the plaintiff, filing a petition for dissolution of marriage in family law court. The plaintiff claims, under penalty of perjury, that the couple entered into valid marriage which now entitles him or her to spousal support and half of the community property amassed during the relationship.

The other partner, called the respondent, claims that the couple cohabitated but was never legally married. If the respondent prevails, the family law action for dissolution of marriage will be dismissed.

The plaintiff then responds by filing a new Marvin Action lawsuit – this time in civil court, not family law court — claiming that although the parties were never married, they agreed to treat each other as if they were. They entered into an agreement to share all property and debts acquired during their relationship, and perhaps agreed to support one another in the event of a break up.

Family law proceedings can be costly, and the respondent may wish to recoup their attorney’s fees and perhaps other damages such as for emotional distress from this false claim of marriage in family court. The law allows for this, but in practice, family law judges are hesitant to award such damages. But if a strong case of perjury can be established, the judge may be more inclined to consider such sanctions.

A second avenue the respondent can take for collecting damages is a claim of malicious prosecution against the plaintiff or their family law attorney.

A malicious prosecution action is intended to protect an individual from unjustifiable and unreasonable litigation. A claim for malicious prosecution asserts that a party brought an unsuccessful legal action without “probable cause” and with “malice”. Having “probable cause” may be described as an honest belief, founded on sufficiently strong facts, that grounds existed for the lawsuit. The question that might be asked is whether any reasonable attorney would have thought the claim was attainable. But if the client lied to the attorney about the facts of the case, then the attorney may not be liable for malicious prosecution.

The bottom line in Marvin Action cases is that they must be filed in Civil Court, not Family Law Court. At Buncher Family Law, we have significant experience in successfully resolving Marvin Actions.

Posted in Cohabitation (Marvin Action).