Often the question is raised whether sexual services can be part of a so-called
Marvin Action, a lawsuit in civil court based upon agreements and obligations
that arose in connection with a unmarried couple living together over
a number of years.
A Marvin Action - named for the landmark 1976 California court decision
that awarded community property rights to the former live-in girlfriend
of actor Lee Marvin — is based on an express or implied contract
to provide support or share property
In any contract, there must be lawful "consideration," meaning
the parties promise to exchange things of value. If only one party is
providing something of value, then it is not a contract - it is, legally
speaking, a gift.
If a Marvin Action is based entirely upon sexual services, it is not enforceable
because it would be considered an illegal agreement for prostitution.
However, the existence of a sexual relationship will not, by itself, invalidate
a Marvin agreement. As the court stated in
Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660, 672, even "if sexual services are part of the
contractual consideration, any severable portion of the contract supported
by independent consideration will still be enforced.” (See also
Whorton v. Dillingham (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 447.)
Sex, the court ruled in
Marvin, is only one of many forms of consideration provided in a relationship.
Acting a homemaker, working at your partner's business without compensation,
acting as a driver, social planner, trip scheduler - these and many more
are forms of consideration that will validate the contract unmarried couples
agree to when they live together for a number of years.
Thus, the facts and circumstances of each case must be examined closely
to determine if a valid Marvin type agreement exists.