Cohabitation claims result when people live together but never get married. You may have a cohabitation claim if you can prove that it was your intent to simply live together and not get married. Should you have a cohabitation claim, you may be entitled to a division of any and all property that was accumulated during the relationship. Your cohabitation claim could also provide you with financial support.
Common Law Marriage
California does not recognize common law marriages. Unmarried parties who cohabitate and have a relationship over long a period of time may have rights to financial support and property. Unmarried parties can enforce promises of support or property rights through a civil court action rather than in family court. These “cohabitation” actions are referred to as Marvin claims, named after the case involving the late actor Lee Marvin.
The California Supreme Court in Marvin expressly declined to treat unmarried cohabitants like married persons but did state that agreements, including oral contracts, between unmarried parties are enforceable.
A “Marvin claim” is a civil action and not a family law matter. The statute of limitations (the time that you have to file an action) for a Marvin claim will depend upon which legal theories are asserted. Cohabitation can result in a claim for breach of an express or implied contract, implied partnership or joint venture, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, constructive fraud, or the imposition of constructive or resulting trust.
Defending Cohabitation Claims
Marvin actions are subject to all of the defenses which are generally available in contract actions, plus a few which are specifically applicable to Marvin claims. These can include the expiration of the statute of limitations, meretricious consideration (if sexual acts form an inseparable part of the contract) and other aspects of the contract which may be contrary to public policy (lack of consent, vagueness, lack of mutuality, unclean hands, or plaintiff’s breach of the agreement). Be reminded that there is a presumption in favor of the owner of legal title for real property which will require the claimant to trace the source of all funds used to purchase or improve real property.
Cohabitation Claim Checklist
The following is a check list of evidence a court will consider when adjudicating a cohabitation claim:
- The length of time that cohabitation existed.
- If the parties entered into an express contract. An express contract is either an oral or written agreement to share property and/or support one another in some way.
- If the parties entered into an implied contract. An implied contract is an agreement that can be proven by the parties’ conduct.
- If the parties raised children together. Children show the interdependent relationship between the parties.
- If one party gave up a job or career for the benefit of the relationship; to raise children, act as a caregiver, or run household so the other partner could focus on their goals.
Evidence Supporting a Cohabitation Claim
- Cards, letters, emails or text messages. Written information that tends to show an agreement to share property and/or provide for one another’s support.
- Shared title to any real estate, business or other property.
- Joint bank accounts, credit cards or retirement accounts.
- Shared medical insurance.
- The existence of any wills, trusts, estate plans or life insurance policies.
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