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Non-Marital Cohabitation (Marvin Cases)

California non-martial cohabitation law protects parties who have made agreements that create mutual and financial dependency in a relationship.

While common law marriage is not recognized in California, unmarried parties who cohabitate and have a relationship over long a period of time may have rights to financial support and property. Unmarried parties can enforce promises of support or property rights through a civil court action rather than in family court.

These “cohabitation” actions are called often called Marvin claims, named after the case involving the late actor Lee Marvin. The actor was sued for financial support by his long-term girlfriend, Michelle Triola. Ms. Triola sought financial support as well as a distribution of the assets that she and Mr. Marvin had accumulated during their long-term relationship.

While the Supreme Court in Marvin expressly declined to treat unmarried cohabitants like married persons, the court stated that agreements (including oral contracts) between unmarried partners should be enforced like any contract between unmarried people.

A Marvin claim must be filed as a separate civil action because it is not a family law matter. The statute of limitations (the period within which a plaintiff must commence the action) for a Marvin claim will depend upon which legal theories are asserted. Applicable legal theories may include breach of express or implied contract, implied partnership or joint venture, quantum meruit, unjust enrichment, constructive fraud, the imposition of constructive or resulting trust, and additional legal remedies.

When there is a breach of an agreement to share property and acquisitions equally, or to provide lifetime support, the injured party can seek redress through a Marvin claim.


Marvin actions are subject to all of the defenses which are generally available in contract actions, plus a few which are specifically applicable to Marvin claims. These can include the expiration of the statute of limitations, meretricious consideration (if sexual acts form an inseparable part of the contract) and other aspects of the contract which may be contrary to public policy, defenses based on the state in which the contract was made, vagueness, lack of mutuality, or plaintiff’s breach of the agreement. In addition, there are equitable defenses which may apply, including the defense of “unclean hands,” and there is also a presumption in favor of the owner of legal title for real property.

Whether you are seeking to assert a Marvin claim or defending against a Marvin claim, it is important to have someone on your side to help guide you through the process. For more information and to have your case evaluated contact the Law Offices of Matthew J. Gonsalves.