Common Law Marriage in California?

Living Together But Aren’t Married, What Should I Expect From A Split Under California Law?

You and your ex lived together for as long as you can remember. You don’t have kids. Now, you both are splitting up. What should you know about California law regarding that split? 

California Common Law Marriage

First, California does not recognize common-law marriage. It does not matter how long you live with someone. If you did not officially get married (i.e., file a marriage certificate), then you and the other individual are not married and never were in the eyes of California law. No marital issues are raised, and issues such as community property and spousal support are not applicable.

Property and financial issues arise from splits from cohabitating relationships and are still valid in the eyes of the law. Cases with issues arising from unmarried couples who have separated after cohabitation are commonly called Marvin cases. This is after the 1976 case Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660, even though the Marvin case was not the first of such cases.

Marvin claims can involve a request to divide all money, assets, and property acquired during the cohabitation upon separation. They can be split into two kinds of claims: (1) property claims; and (2) support claims. However, such property and support claims may only be considered if the people made such an agreement concerning property or support agreements. These agreements can be either express or implied. If implied, the agreement, must show more likely than not that (1) the conduct of the people demonstrates the agreement; and (2) performance of the contract is not based upon the sexual aspects of the relationship. 

The ex-couples conduct shows the agreement

First, the conduct element is straightforward: if it is shown that both parties contributed to a property or both parties share a vehicle, then it is likely there was an agreement, and the court will divide the property accordingly. This would mean a couple might both contribute to a mortgage without the understanding that one is a renter. It could mean that as a couple, they purchased something together.

What do you mean by not based on Sex?

The prohibited sexual aspect is more nuanced. Contracts or agreements based on sexual favors are illegal and contrary to public policy. Courts do not enforce portions of any contract where the exchange of those favors are agreed upon. There is case law further extending this notion of prohibited sexual intimacy with companionship. That means agreements where one agrees to be with another individual for companionship in exchange for financial backing is likely to not be upheld as a valid agreement.

Here is how this might play out in the real world. Going back to the previous example, if one agreed to allow another individual free use of the car in exchange for sex, then the court may very well invalid that contract based on the prohibited sexual component, and not divide the car between the parties. It gets tricky if the same arrangement was based on spending 8 hours a day with the other. The Court is still likely to interpret this as a form of forced companionship/intimacy and invalidate. The court may possibly even consider it indentured servitude.

The statute of limitations for Marvin agreements is the same as for general civil contracts: 4 years from the breach of the written contracts and 2 years from the breach of any oral contracts. They are treated as civil contracts and are on the fringe of family law, especially if no children are involved. Splits obviously become more complicated if the couple has children together.

Cohabitation and Marvin Agreements can quickly become complex and overwhelming. If you are unsure how to proceed, please call us at (833) 931-1615 or fill out our contact form to schedule an initial consultation!

*DISCLAIMER: The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice but should be construed for general informational purposes only.

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