In California, longtime cohabitating couples often believe that after living
together for a set number of years, they have established a common law marriage.
That may have been true in the 19th Century. But not today.
In California, unmarried partners who break up have rights under what is
known as a Marvin Action. A Marvin Action is an action filed in civil
court made by one party against another he or she cohabitated with but
never married for support and or property rights similar to those that
might be made as between parties in a divorce.
Such cohabitation based claims are often called Marvin Action because the
leading case defining the rights and duties of non-marital cohabitating
partners is Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal. 3d 660, 681. (The landmark
"palimony" case pitted actor Lee Marvin and his longtime girlfriend.)
California abolished common law marriage in 1895. A common law marriage
occurs when a man and woman cohabitate for seven or so years, and meet
other requirements mandated by the particular state as being necessary
to be treated as though they were married, even though they never obtained
a marriage license.
A Marvin agreements are ones based on an express contact (explicitly agreed
upon verbally or in writing), or based on an implied contract (an agreement
implied by the parties conduct), or on quasi contractual grounds.
For instance, the court may enforce an implied or express agreement between
parties to pool their respective resources and to share in all fruits
for their labor for their mutual benefit. This is often referred to as
a "pooling agreement." The end result is that domestic partners
may have spousal support and equal division of community property rights
similar to a legally married couples seeking a divorce.
Other grounds for recovery include an implied or express agreement to hold
property jointly or to form a partnership or joint venture. Further civil
grounds for recovery may include an action for the reasonable value of
services rendered, or an action seeking to impose a constructive trust,
resulting trust or an equitable lien to provide relief from the abuse
of a confidential or fiduciary relationship.