Establishing Eligibility to Share Property or Receive Support after Living Together Outside of Wedlock
A Marvin Action, or cohabitation claim, is a legal action filed in a civil court. It is based upon agreements and obligations, which arose in connection with a couple living together over a number of years. They are sometimes erroneously thought of as a common law marriage, which was outlawed in California in 1896. These lawsuits can apply to both opposite and same sex couples.
Marvin Actions stem from a 1976 California court ruling where the former live-in girlfriend of actor Lee Marvin, Michelle Triola, claimed Lee Marvin promised to support her for the rest of her life. The California Supreme Court ruled that Triola had not proven the existence of a contract between her and Mr. Marvin that gave her any interest in his property. Hence, Ms. Triola took away from the relationship and household exactly what she brought to it. Due to the notoriety of this case, subsequent legal claims involving cohabitating but unmarried parties trying to enforce promises of support or property rights became known as Marvin Actions.
Marvin Action claims can be very complex. Here are eight common factors to consider in determining if you might have a claim:
Eight Common Areas of Evidence
- How long have you and your partner lived together? The longer you cohabitated, the more likely you will have developed a “confidential” and “fiduciary” relationship to each other, placing a duty upon each of you to look out for each other’s best interest. It is also more likely the other factors below will come into play.
- Do you and your partner have any children together? This tends to lend itself to a more interdependent relationship between the parties. In addition, it is not uncommon for the children to believe their parents are married.
- Has one of you given up your employment or career for the mutual benefit of your former partner and yourself? For example, have you given up your job to take care of your mutual children or to run the household so the other partner can focus on work?
- Did you agree to work at a shared business or a business in your partner’s name for a deflated income or no income? One partner may do this for the benefit of the couple such as to increase the value of the business, maximize tax benefits, and/or because at the end of the day, the parties shared their paycheck anyway so it would not matter under whose name the paycheck was issued.
- Is there written evidence of an agreement? Is there correspondence (letter, emails, cards, etc.) between you and your former partner indicating an agreement to share property and/or provide for each other’s support?
- Do you hold yourselves out to the public as being married or as registered domestic partners? For example, would witnesses testify that you or your former partner told them that the two of you were married? What does your former partner’s Facebook or other social media pages indicate?
- Have you commingled your property or debts? This tends to show that you have agreed to pool your income and resources. Do you share title to any real estate or businesses; do you have joint bank accounts, credit cards or retirement accounts; do you share health, dental or other types of insurance?
- Is there any documentation showing marital status? Have you or your former partner filled out any forms indicating that either of you were married to the other? This may be done expressly by stating you were married or implicitly by sharing the same last name with your partner. Check the following documents: employment applications, bank applications, medical emergency notification forms, insurance documents, bank documents, grant deeds, wills, trust instruments, tax returns, your children’s birth certificates, letters, texts, and emails to or from friends and acquaintances.
This is a list of the more common areas of evidence that help establish an agreement to share property or provide for support. However, this is by no means an all-inclusive list. Each case is unique and one must look at all the facts and evidence to determine the strength of a claim and the best way to present the evidence in court.
Buncher Family Law is a leading Southern California firm that specializes in Marvin Actions. Checking with one of our Certified Family Law Specialists can be the clarifying first step in deciding if you have a valid Marvin Action claim. Consider scheduling a Clear Legal Strategy meeting as it can be a first step in understanding your options.