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Can you get palimony when your relationship ends?

If you live with someone in California, but the two of you never married or registered a domestic partnership, you may still be able to get “spousal” support if and when your relationship breaks up. As FindLaw explains, California has a unique law that allows some cohabitating partners to receive palimony at the end of a cohabitation arrangement.

Depending on your age, you may or may not remember Lee Marvin, a famous actor back in the day, but he is the one you must thank for the whole palimony concept. Lee lived with a woman named Michelle Triola for a number of years. When the relationship ended in 1971, Michelle sued Lee for half of the couple’s “marital” property and also for “spousal” support, alleging that the two had an oral agreement whereby she contributed her services and earnings during the relationship in exchange for these things.

A five-year court battle ensued that made headlines in all the tabloids. Michelle won at the appellate level when the court held that cohabitating adults can form contracts regarding their mutual and respective property and earnings. It also held that such oral contracts are enforceable because the relationship itself implies the contract’s existence. Ultimately, however, Lee won when the California Supreme Court ruled that in this specific case, no such contract existed, oral, written or implied.

Cohabitation agreement

As you know, California is a community property state. It is not, however, a common law marriage state. Consequently, if your cohabitation arrangement began, remained and ended in California, you must go to civil court to pursue your palimony claims. If, however, your relationship began in one of the common law marriage states and the two of you later moved to California before your relationship ultimately ended, our laws recognize your common law marriage. Therefore you must go to family court to pursue your palimony claims.

Understand that California has no palimony law as such. Nevertheless, courts often award it, especially if you and your “spouse” enter into a written cohabitation agreement whose terms include palimony provisions.

This is educational information and not intended as legal advice.

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