Marriage is no longer the only solution for couples in long-term relationships. Many modern couples choose to remain unmarried while cohabitating, combining their finances, and building lives together.
This can be an excellent way to retain a degree of independence in a relationship, but it can lead to problems should unmarried couples choose to separate. Long-term non-marital partners who have combined their finances often have unequal incomes. In the event of a separation, the lower-income partner may be without the means to support themselves due to the sacrifices they made during the relationship.
When married parties choose to divorce, a disparity in incomes can be addressed through spousal support (alimony) orders if one spouse chose to work less to care for the household or children. However, non-marital couples do not have access to spousal support. In California, there is an alternative, however. Unmarried couples can pursue a Marvin Action to request financial support after they separate. Below, we discuss what Marvin Actions accomplish, the history of these actions, and how unmarried California residents can pursue a Marvin Action after a separation.
What Is a Marvin Action?
Marvin Actions, also known as Marvin Claims, cohabitation claims, or colloquially as “palimony,” are legal actions filed by one party against another to enforce express or implied agreements made during their relationship. These actions are frequently used by former romantic partners to pursue financial support or property division after ending their relationship.
For these claims to be upheld in court, the judge will consider a variety of factors, such as:
- How long did you and your partner live together?
- Did you or your partner financially support the other person during your relationship?
- Did you or your partner perform other valuable services (such as raising children at home or maintaining the household) during the relationship?
- Did you and your partner jointly contribute to the purchase of real or high-value property?
- Was there an express or implied agreement on how property would be shared or a partner would be supported?
Successful claims will be able to respond accurately to each of these questions. Suppose the judge agrees that there was an agreement regarding property or support in the relationship. In that case, they will likely rule in favor of the claimant and award some form of ongoing support or divide property between the two parties.
History of Marvin Actions
Marvin Actions receive their name from the 1976 California Supreme Court case, Marvin v. Marvin. This case was first filed after prominent actor Lee Marvin and his long-term romantic partner and cohabitant Michelle Triola Marvin separated. After the separation, Triola filed a civil lawsuit against Lee, stating that he had promised to support her for life and arguing his failure to fulfill this promise was a breach of contract.
After several appeals, the case was heard by the California Supreme Court. The Court’s decision was twofold. In regard to Triola, the court ruled that she was unable to prove that there was a contract in place. However, the ruling also established that there is a standard by which agreements can be established between cohabitants and that these express or implied contracts are strong enough that courts may enforce them through financial support orders.
In the decades since, the ruling in Marvin v. Marvin has been frequently used as a precedent for unmarried partners to pursue financial support akin to alimony. While Marvin claims do not have the same legislative backing as spousal support, there is a significant amount of case law based on the original Marvin decision. As such, California residents who require support from unmarried partners can trust that their claim will be given appropriate consideration in court.
How to Pursue a Marvin Action
These actions are not technically a type of family law since the parties have no legal, familial connection. Instead, they are considered a civil matter. As such, these actions must be filed in civil court, not family court. Furthermore, they are not automatically considered as part of a larger legal matter such as a divorce, so they must be filed independently.
To file a Marvin claim, you will follow the same process as you would for any other civil contract enforcement claim. This requires you to:
- Collect evidence that a contract existed. This evidence may include messages or documents promising support, proof of how long you cohabitated with your partner, bank statements showing that your partner gave you funds, or receipts proving joint contributions to property.
- Submit a civil lawsuit petition. Put together a complaint, a summons, a proof of service, causes of action, and a civil case cover sheet explaining your case, then submit this to your local court.
- Have the papers served to the other party. Work with a document server to have the legal documents served to your former partner. Note that you cannot serve these papers yourself.
- Wait for the other party’s response. Your former partner will have 30 days to respond to the summons, and their response will dictate the next actions you take.
If your former partner does not respond to your lawsuit, you can pursue the default in the lawsuit. Otherwise, you will go to trial to have your case heard before a judge.
Pursue Marvin Claims with Expert Legal Representation
The elements that make these actions unique also make them one of the most complex types of relationship-related legal actions. If you are considering filing a claim against your former non-marital partner, you will benefit from working with an attorney with experience in these types of cases.
At Flicker, Kerin, Kruger & Bissada LLP, we have more than 40 years of experience guiding our clients through the process of pursuing all kinds of support orders. We will help you understand the specific factors involved in your situation, build a strong claim, and fight for the support you need in court. Reach out online or call our Menlo Park office at 650-338-0324 to talk to our attorneys and learn how to pursue the support you need after your separation.