In the United States, common law marriage has been in existence since the 19th century. While it might sound archaic, it’s actually still around
in one form or another in over a dozen states including Colorado, Texas
and Alabama. Here’s everything you need to know about unmarried
partners and support payments in California.
What Is Common Law Marriage?
A common law marriage is a legal framework where a couple, usually a man
and woman, lives together for a period of time and is legally considered
married without having formally registered their relation as a civil or
religious marriage. Although the requirements for a common law marriage
differ from state to state, here are a few of the most common:
- The couple must live together (amount of time varies)
- The couple must have the legal right or capacity to marry
- The couple must intend to be married
- The couple must hold themselves out to friends and family as being married
Is Common Law Marriage Recognized in California?
It’s widely believed that if a couple lives together for many years
and holds themselves to be married, then they are considered to be legally
married. While this is possible in a few states,
common law marriage is not permitted in California; in fact, it was abolished over a hundred years ago. California, however,
does recognize common law marriages that were created in states which
do recognize them. Additionally, even though California did away with
common law marriages, couples who live together may still have rights
to financial support and property division, but only under very rare circumstances.
If both people in a relationship had a reasonable and good faith belief
that they had entered into a valid marriage, but it turned out the marriage
was void, then they are considered “putative spouses.” A couple
must actually go through the motions to get married, but had something
go wrong, such as mistakenly thinking they were legally divorced before
getting married. A putative spouse is entitled to spousal support and
property acquired during the invalid marriage under the state’s
community property laws.
Another circumstance in which unwed couples may have rights includes two
people who had an agreement to treat assets like community property or
promised lifetime support, despite knowing they were not married. No one
is entitled to support or property rights under the state’s laws,
but there can be rights created under the contract, such as “palimony.”
What Is Palimony?
If a person promises to provide support for their partner that’s
similar to spousal support (alimony), this is known as “palimony.”
Not all states allow palimony, but these payments have been permitted
in California ever since the 1976 California Supreme Court case of unmarried
Lee Marvin and Michelle Marvin.
The landmark decision states:
“The fact that a man and woman live together without marriage, and
engage in a sexual relationship, does not in itself invalidate agreements
between them relating to their earnings, property, or expenses. Neither
is such an agreement invalid merely because the parties may have contemplated
the creation or continuation of a nonmarital relationship when they entered
into it. Agreements between nonmarital partners fail only to the extent
that they rest upon a consideration of meretricious [illicit] sexual services.
... We add that in the absence of an express agreement, the courts may
look to a variety of other remedies in order to protect the parties’
Courts consider many factors when choosing whether to pay out palimony,
such as the length of the relationship, the existence of written contracts,
an implied understanding of financial support from one partner to another
and any sacrifices made by either partner to support the other.
Contact Us Today
If you have any questions about palimony in California, please contact our
Riverside family lawyers at Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. We can discuss the specifics
of your case with you and determine whether or not you may be granted
Call (951) 687-6003 to learn more about our services during a free case consultation.