If you cohabitate with someone in California without having entered into a legal marriage or registered domestic partnership, it will likely surprise you to learn that you still may be able to collect spousal support and/or receive half of your partner’s property if and when your relationship ends. As FindLaw explains, your good fortune arises from a unique California law popularly known as the palimony law.

California established the concept of palimony back in the 1970s when Michelle Triola sued her long-time live-in companion, high-profile actor Lee Marvin, for half his property plus alimony when their cohabitation arrangement ended. Triola claimed that before they began cohabitating, he and she had entered into an oral contract calling for her to agree to abandon her own career to focus on his in exchange for him agreeing to give her half his property and de facto alimony at any point in the future that they parted ways. Not surprisingly, Marvin denied the existence of any such oral contract and challenged Triola’s claim to his property.

Long court battle

While tabloids across the nation gleefully reported on each and every aspect of the contentious lawsuit, the case wended its way up the court ladder. The appellate court sided with Triola, holding that any two consenting adults, married or unmarried, could enter into an oral contract such as the one Triola alleged. Again not surprisingly, Marvin appealed this decision.

Ultimately Marvin won at the California Supreme Court level. Even though it upheld that portion of the appellate court’s decision declaring the validity of oral contracts between two consenting adults, it nevertheless reversed the portion granting Triola the things she sought. The court’s reasoning? It held that in this specific case, Marvin carried his burden of proof that no such oral contract existed.

Despite the availability of palimony in California, your best strategy before entering into a cohabitation arrangement consists of first insisting that you and the other person sign a written cohabitation agreement that sets out what each of you can expect to receive from the other if and when the relationship ends.

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