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What Is Palimony?





Some states recognize common law marriage. However, California does not recognize common law marriage. You are not legally married in California unless you obtain a marriage license and hold a civil or religious ceremony.





However, if you and your partner have resided together for an extended period, you may be entitled to palimony. Palimony is similar to the spousal support granted to a spouse during a divorce. The California Supreme Court confirmed the right to seek palimony in the case of Marvin v. Marvin (1976).





Setting the Framework for Palimony in California





The decision in Marvin v. Marvin involves a man and a woman who were not married. They had lived together for seven years before their breakup. Lee Marvin did not believe he had a legal responsibility to support Michelle Triola (Marvin) because they had not been married.





Michelle argued that she had relied upon Lee’s income during their relationship. She did not work outside of the home. Managing the household was her responsibility.





Therefore, Michelle argued that the court should order Lee to provide financial support after the breakup. The court agreed and found that it would not be fair to deny Michelle financial support even though the couple was not married. This court decision sets the framework for palimony in California.





Seeking Palimony in California





To receive palimony, a party must file a civil action seeking palimony. There are two basic situations in which the court may grant palimony to a party after a breakup:





Palimony for a Putative Spouse





In some cases, one or both parties may believe they are living together as a legally married couple. If a party believes that he or she was legally married, the court may grant palimony in the event the couple separates. However, the party must prove that the belief was in good faith and reasonable.





For example, a party may believe he or she is legally married, even though the marriage is void because the parties are family members, one party is married to someone else, or the marriage was based on fraud. A party may believe the marriage is legal, but the person performing the ceremony was not authorized to perform marriage ceremonies in California, or there was a clerical error with the marriage license. 





If the court finds that a party had reasonable cause to believe the marriage was valid, the court may grant palimony.





Palimony for a Contractual Relationship





Palimony may also be granted if the court finds a contractual relationship existed between the parties. If a couple has a mutual understanding or believes they have a private agreement to live as a married couple, that agreement could extend to property rights and financial matters.





An agreement between a couple may involve sharing income and expenses, property, and retirement benefits, similar to the way a married couple would share their finances. The agreement may be oral, written, or implied. Evidence that can support an implied agreement between the parties include:





  • Sharing income and expenses
  • Commingling assets, such as having joint bank accounts and other financial accounts
  • Co-owned property
  • Shared credit cards and co-signed debts
  • Naming each other as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other financial accounts




Factors the Court Might Consider When Awarding Palimony





A court may consider several factors when determining whether palimony is justified. The court may consider the above evidence that an implied agreement existed between the parties. The court may also consider any written proof of an agreement or proof of an oral agreement between the parties.





The length of the relationship is another factor the court might consider during a palimony proceeding, as well as the conduct of each party during the relationship. For example, did one party give up a career to care for the other party or the parties’ children? Did one party work to support the other party’s education or career development?





Absent a written agreement, the conduct of the parties can be a significant factor in deciding palimony cases.





Proving an Agreement Existed Between the Parties





California is a community property state. Married individuals do not need to have an agreement to share property jointly. The state’s community property laws create the requirement to share property jointly.





Palimony is not guaranteed. The ability to receive palimony rests with your ability to prove you and your partner had an agreement regarding shared finances and financial support.





Proving oral agreements or implied agreements can be difficult. You may want to discuss your case with a San Diego family law attorney. An experienced attorney can guide you through the steps you should take to strengthen your case for palimony.


Puja Sachdev

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