Often times a question is raised about whether sexual relations can be part of a so-called Marvin Action. Marvin Actions, or palimony lawsuits, are legal matters that take place in civil courts, as opposed to Family Law courts. They are based upon agreements and obligations that arose in connection with an unmarried couple living together over a number of years.
“Common Law” marriage is not recognized in California however, unmarried couples who live together and have a relationship over a period of time can have community property and palimony rights that can be sought through a civil court action. This is called a Marvin Action, based on the landmark 1976 case involving actor Lee Marvin and his live-in girlfriend.
In any contract there must be lawful “consideration,” meaning the parties promise to exchange things of value. If only one party is providing something of value, then it is not a contract, it is, legally speaking, a gift.
If a Marvin Action is based entirely upon sexual services, it is not enforceable because it would be considered an illegal agreement for prostitution.
However, the existence of a sexual relationship will not, by itself, invalidate a Marvin agreement. As the court stated in Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660, 672, even “if sexual services are part of the contractual consideration, any severable portion of the contract supported by independent consideration will still be enforced.” (See also Whorton v. Dillingham (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 447.)
Sex, the court ruled in Marvin, is only one of many forms of consideration provided in a relationship. Acting as a homemaker, working at your partner’s business without compensation, pooling of assets are forms of consideration that will validate the contract unmarried couples agree to when they live together for a number of years.
Thus, the facts and circumstances of each case must be examined closely to determine if a valid Marvin type agreement exists. The law in this area is complex and the attorneys at Buncher Law can help you determine if you have a case and whether it is worth pursuing. Likewise we are great at defending Marvin Claims and can assist one in protecting their assets and looking at the liability to which they might be exposed.