California's Palimony Laws

Michelle Triola was an actress and lounge singer when she met movie actor Lee Marvin. In 1964, they moved in together and lived their lives as a married couple, although they never married. During that time Lee continued to act in several movies, but Michelle gave up her career to be a homemaker and caregiver for Lee. Lee’s success as an actor allowed him to amass a net worth of over one million dollars - a fortune by 1960s standards.

In 1970, Lee ended his relationship with Michelle and kicked her out of his house. He paid her financial support until 1971, but then terminated his relationship with her entirely. Michelle sued Lee for financial support and half of the assets acquired while they lived together. She argued that they had an oral agreement (a contract) whereby Michelle would give up her career to be the homemaker and caregiver for Lee and Lee would financially support Michelle for life. (She could not argue that they were in a common law marriage, because California does not recognize common law marriage.) Lee argued that he owed Michelle nothing because a contract could not exist based on a sexual relationship. The trial court agreed with Lee and Michelle appealed all the way up to the state supreme court.

The California State Supreme Court agreed with Michelle in that an oral contract can be made between parties based on facts other than a sexual relationship; however, the court did not find those facts in this situation. Ultimately, Michelle lost her case.

This case is important because it established a form of law known as “palimony.” Parties living together and combining their assets can be held to the same standard as married couples of divvying up property upon separation.

Although “palimony” is valid law in California, it is very difficult to prove and usually needs the expertise of a family law expert to be successful.

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