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What is palimony?

If you have lived with someone in California for several years without benefit of marriage and your relationship now seems headed for a breakup, you need to know about California’s unique palimony law. FindLaw explains that this law allows some unmarried people to claim and receive spousal support from their long-time cohabitant when the relationship comes to an end.

Palimony came out of the high-profile case of Michelle Triola and the famous actor Lee Marvin back in the 1970s. After living together for numerous years, Triola and Marvin came to a parting of the ways in 1971, at which point Triola sued Marvin for half his property and de facto spousal support.

The Marvin case

After five years of wending its way through various California courts, each step dutifully detailed in the tabloids, the case finally arrived at the California appellate court. Triola had maintained all along that at the time she and Marvin began their cohabitation arrangement, they had entered into an oral agreement whereby she agreed to give up her career and focus on him and his career instead and he agreed in exchange to give her half his property and de facto alimony if and when their relationship came to an end. Marvin had maintained all along that no such agreement ever existed.

The appellate court granted Triola the money she sought, holding that two consenting adults can indeed enter into an oral contract if they want to and that the couple’s relationship implied such a contract. Marvin appealed and ultimately won in the California Supreme Court. While this court agreed with the appellate court as to the legality of an oral contract between two consenting adults, it nevertheless agreed with Marvin that this particular couple had entered into no such contract, thereby overturning the appellate court’s decision.

The moral to the story? No matter how much you love the person with whom you intend to cohabitate, your best course of action is to enter into a written cohabitation agreement with him or her before the cohabitation begins. That way, if and when your relationship ends, you will have written proof of what each of you agreed to do for the other.

This is general educational information and not intended to provide legal advice.

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