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Common Law Marriage Myth

There is no such thing as “Common Law Marriage” in California

When asked the question does common law marriage exist, most will answer yes.  The myth that a cohabitating couple that has lived together for a said period of time gives that couple the same legal rights as married couples is untrue.  The state of California, as most states, does not recognize common law marriage.

This begs the question of what rights do cohabitating couples have, if any? The California landmark case, Marvin v. Marvin, set the precedence for future cases.  Michelle Triola (who changed her name to Michelle Marvin) lived with actor Lee Marvin and upon the break up claimed she was promised support payments (or “palimony”) and half of the property acquired during her relationship with her live-in partner.

The Supreme Court ruling stated that while the state abolished common law marriage in 1895, California law recognizes non-marital relationship contracts.  These contracts can be express or implied and can be written or oral, but they must be provable in any case through a civil court action. Ironically, in the case of Michelle Marvin the California courts ruled that since Michelle Marvin never had a contract with Lee Marvin, she was not entitled to any money.  Ironically, while Michelle Marvin’s lawsuit led to the rule of law that recognized non-marital relationship contracts, Michelle was unable to prove with sufficient evidence the existence of her own alleged non-marital contract.

In a Marvin Claim, a partner from a non-marital/cohabitation relationship sues for the right to monetary support (palimony) and. division of property acquired by the parties during their relationship.  The success of this claim hinges on the strength of the evidence of the express or implied contract – be it written or otherwise, but it must be definitive. 

Marvin Law cases are seldom talked about  for a number of reasons, the most common being that they are hard to win and expensive to litigate.  Many clients focus on the right to palimony, which is often the weakest part of a Marvin claim and may not have enough monetary value to make it worth bringing a lawsuit.

The success of a claim is dependent on many factors some of which include the amount of time the couple lived together, whether or not they managed their financial affairs like a typical married couple, and/or if one partner sacrificed their career to be the family home maker. With Marvin cases the one fact that holds true is  that these kinds of cases are driven by individual specific facts – every situation is unique, none are black and white, therefore they are very complicated.

These cases can take place between same sex couples, parents or siblings of a deceased partner involved in a cohabitation relationship, couples with marriages under religeous guidelines but no state marriage license or a couple simply living together.  The Buncher Law Corpoaration, led by Certified Family Law Specialist Sven Buncher, has successfully represented clients on both sides of a cohabitation claim or Marvin Action. Our extensive family law experience coupled with our civil court experience and business litigation expertise has made us experts in this type of law.

If you have a claim you would like to be heard, you can always call our Irvine offices at (949) 398-8720, email us

Posted in Cohabitation (Marvin Action).