As a California resident, you may qualify for spousal support and half of your partner’s property when your relationship comes to a close, even if that relationship was not a marriage or a registered domestic partnership. Why? Because California has a palimony law.
As FindLaw explains, California passed its palimony law as the result of a high-profile legal battle back in the 1970s between Lee Marvin, a major superstar of the time, and his live-in girlfriend Michelle Triola.
Initial court decisions
Marvin and Triola lived together for many years without benefit of marriage. When they ultimately split up, Triola took Marvin to court, claiming entitlement to half of his property, plus monthly support payments. She based her claims on an oral agreement she alleged the couple had made early on. According to her, this agreement called for her to relinquish her budding career and focus instead on his in exchange for his promise to give her half his property and monthly support payments if and when their relationship ended. Marvin disputed the existence of any such agreement.
Triola won at the trial court level, but Marvin appealed. The appellate court nevertheless sustained the trial court, noting that any two consenting adults, married or otherwise, can enter into an oral agreement if they want to. Marvin appealed again.
Supreme Court decision
When this highly-publicized case finally made its way to the California Supreme Court, Marvin ultimately prevailed. While agreeing with the appellate court’s construction of oral agreement law, the Supreme Court justices nevertheless agreed with Marvin that this particular couple never had a valid oral agreement setting forth the claims Triola alleged. She therefore had to walk away empty-handed.
For your own protection, you and your significant other should sign a written cohabitation agreement before you begin living together. Make sure it clearly delineates who gets what property and support if and when you break up.