As a California resident, you need to be aware of a law unique to our state. Popularly called the palimony law, it addresses spousal support, but not in the way you normally think about that term. This law addresses the payments an unmarried but cohabitating person may receive when his or her nonmarital living arrangement comes to an end.

A Hollywood example

Back in the day, Lee Marvin, a superstar actor, and Michelle Triola, his longtime live-in girlfriend, called it quits. What ensued was years of litigation as Triola took to the courts to enforce what she alleged was a verbal agreement the couple had made that guaranteed her alimony and half of Marvin’s property if she gave up her own budding career to help him enhance his but their relationship subsequently ended. Tabloids throughout the country had a field day during the 1970s as the couple battled back and forth.

Multiple court decisions

Initially, Triola prevailed in both the trial court and the appellate court after Marvin appealed the trial court decision. Both courts granted Triola’s petitions, the appellate court noting that any two adults can make an oral contract if they choose to do so. Refusing to accept defeat and the decimation of his fortune, Marvin ultimately appealed to the California Supreme Court.

Marvin finally won at this level. The Supreme Court upheld that portion of the lower courts’ rulings holding that two adults can make a binding oral agreement but overruled that portion of their holdings that granted Triola the relief she sought. Why? Because after the California Supreme Court reviewed all the evidence presented in this case, it found that the parties had not in fact entered into the oral agreement Triola alleged. She, therefore, walked away with nothing.

Your best defense against a similar outcome constitutes entering into a written cohabitation agreement with your live-in partner. This contract should set forth in detail the exact agreement and which of you will receive what property and/or payments in the event the relationship comes to an end.

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