Tara Burd, San Diego Civil Law Attorney | Spousal Support For Unmarried Couples: The Marvin Action

Tara Burd, a San Diego Civil Law Attorney reminds us, “It is true that California’s Family Code does not govern non-marital relationships and distributions of property. But the civil code does.”

For unmarried couples, this means that there is no opportunity for spousal support payments in the traditional sense. However, this does not mean that there is no recourse for the disadvantaged spouse in a bad break up. Instead of heading to family court, long term ex-partners may seek equitable remedies in civil court pursuant to a case known as Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal. 3d 660.

The Marvin Court held that courts should enforce non-marital contracts to the extent the contract is not founded on meretricious sexual services. This does not mean that sex could not have been involved in the relationship, but simply having a sexual relationship is not enough. But, as with any contract-related claim, Marvin agreements can be written, oral, express, or implied.

The underlying argument of a Marvin claim is that two people, through the duration of their relationship, entered into numerous agreements. Just like a marriage, most unmarried partners believe that their relationship is based on undying true love and ask nothing in return. As a result, they do not memorialize their agreements and understandings in writing. This doesn’t mean that those agreements and understanding don’t exist or are not enforceable.

A common fear by many is that airing dirty laundry, such as a criminal conviction will affect the outcome of a Marvin Action. Burd told us, “Individuals with criminal convictions should not remain silent when they have been wronged out of fear they won’t be believed.”

Consider the case of Alderson v. Alderson:

Jonne and Steve Alderson first met in December 1966 in Reno, Nevada. They talked about getting married, but it never happened. Instead, they cohabitated for 12 years. Both parties were employed and placed funds into joint bank accounts. In 1968, Jonne and Steve jointly decided to purchase a home together, but title was placed in Steve’s name only. Mortgage payments were made from a joint bank account. Over time, the couple purchased a total of 14 properties, taking title in various forms – sometimes as husband and wife. They also had three children.

At the time of the separation, Steve purportedly forced Jonne to quitclaim all the properties to his name. Jonne was left with nothing, despite her 12 years of equal contribution. That contribution was made financially and as the mother of Steve’s three children. Never married, Jonne had no remedy under the Family Code and no right to true spousal support.

Instead, Jonne was entitled to recover from Steve under contract based claims. Evidenced by their actions, the Alderson court found that Jonne was entitled to an undivided one-half interest in all the properties acquired during their relationship.

Here are the facts that supported Jonne’s recovery:

• The parties held themselves out to the public as husband and wife;
• The children took Steve’s surname;
• The parties pooled their financial resources;
• The pooled financial resources were used to purchase and pay for the properties;
• The decisions to purchase the properties were made jointly;
• Jonne actively participated in maintaining the rental properties such as handling bookkeeping, bill paying, rent collection, and repair; and
• 10 of the properties were taken in joint title as husband and wife.

These factors are neither requirements nor an exhaustive list of factors that a court would consider in a Marvin action. However, this real-life fact pattern is increasingly common in society. As such, individuals should be aware of the Marvin remedy for themselves, friends and family members who have been in long term relationships with severely inequitable endings.

For more about Tara Burd visit: The Tara Burd San Diego Civil Law Attorney Who Is Page

Visit her office at:
T. Burd Law Group
945 Fourth Ave., #307
San Diego, CA 92101

Or, contact her office by telephone at: (858) 215-2873.