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What is palimony?

If you and the person with whom you are living in California are on the verge of calling it quits, you need to be aware that you could have to pay palimony to your departing partner. As FindLaw explains, palimony is a unique California form of spousal support that some cohabitating but unmarried partners must pay to the other when the relationship ends.

The concept of palimony arose out of the front-page dispute a number of years ago between famed actor Lee Marvin and Michelle Triola Marvin, the woman with whom he lived for several years. When the couple ultimately split up, Michelle claimed that Lee owed her not only “spousal” support, but also half of their “marital” property based on their alleged oral agreement that she was entitled to these things due to her contributions of effort, services and earnings while the relationship lasted.

After five years of litigation in various California courts, Lee ultimately won. The appellate court agreed with Michelle that cohabitating adults are just as competent as any other adults to form contracts regarding their property and earnings. It also concluded that even an oral contract is enforceable because the couple’s circumstances can imply its existence. The California Supreme Court, however, held in 1976 that in this particular case, Lee and Michelle had no contract, written, oral or implied.

Cohabitation agreement

It is important for you to understand that while California is a community property state, it is not a common law marriage state. This means that if your cohabitation arrangement existed totally in California, you will need to pursue your palimony claim in civil court, not family court. If, however, you and your partner established your relationship in one of the states that recognizes common law marriage and later moved to California, our state recognizes the validity of your common law marriage. In this case, you can go to family court to pursue your palimony claims.

While California has no specific palimony statute, courts often award it. If you and your partner entered into a cohabitation agreement before moving in together, you stand a much better chance of receiving – or paying – alimony depending on the terms of that agreement.

This is general information only and not intended to provide legal advice.


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