For married couples, prenuptial agreements and postnuptial agreements provide means for taking certain decisions out of the hands of the judge in the event of a divorce. Negotiated settlements, collaborative law divorces, and mediation can all serve this function as well, but entering into an agreement prior to making the decision to separate can help minimize the expense and emotional strain involved in reaching compromises with your soon-to-be-former spouse.
But, what if you never actually get married? Since there are no nuptials, it stands to reason that there can be no prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. You also cannot get divorced. Under a landmark court decision that is fast approaching its 40th anniversary, California law recognizes an alternate solution for unmarried couples to make binding decisions regarding how their affairs will be handled in the event of a separation.
Marvin v. Marvin
In a 1976 case known as Marvin v. Marvin, the Supreme Court of California decided that agreements between unmarried couples regarding property division and other matters that would otherwise typically be settled through a nuptial agreement or divorce constitute binding and enforceable contracts. These contracts – known as cohabitation agreements or “Marvin agreements” – are now a well-established part of California law.
Written Marvin Agreements
Cohabitating couples in California have had, for many years, the opportunity to enter into written agreements in order to prescribe how certain financial and other matters will be handled in the event of a separation. Pooling or Marvin agreements can be used to address matters such as:
- Rights to property acquired prior to or during the couple’s period of cohabitation
- Obligations regarding expenses such as housing, utilities, and education
- Financial support rights following separation (known as “palimony”)
- The method (such as mediation) that the partners will use to resolve any disputes that arise down the road
Implied Marvin Agreements and Equitable Distributions
Beyond enforcing written cohabitation agreements, the court in Marvin also held that implied contracts regarding these matters may be legally enforceable as well. An agreement may be implied under a variety of circumstances – most notably when the couple’s conduct during the course of their relationship suggests that they had an understanding regarding how finances or other matters should be handled.
Further still, the Supreme Court held that considerations of equity and fairness may justify enforcement of an unmarried partner’s obligations even when there is no agreement in place. As a result, one former partner may be able to impose legally-enforceable duties on his or her former cohabitant even in the absence of a mutual understanding.
Marvin Actions: The Mechanism for Enforcement
As perhaps you can see, situations involving separation of unmarried partners can get complicated very quickly. Having a written Marvin agreement in place can help eliminate the issues that arise in the absence of a formal contract.
If you need to enforce a written pooling agreement – or if you need to establish an implied agreement or equitable obligation – the mechanism for doing so is known as a “Marvin action.” A Marvin action is a lawsuit filed in civil court in which you ask a judge to award property or support rights based upon your cohabitation with an unmarried partner.
In considering your request, the judge will consider numerous factors, including:
- the length of cohabitation
- each partner’s contributions to the relationship, and
- the parties’ respective sources of income.
Having an experienced attorney on your side can help ensure that your rights are fully protected and you get what you deserve.
If you have questions about creating a cohabitation agreement or enforcing a Marvin agreement under California law, contact the Law Office of Renkin & Associates to learn more.