Everything You Should Know About Common Law Marriage & Palimony

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:

  1. The couple must live together (amount of time varies)
  2. The couple must have the legal right or capacity to marry
  3. The couple must intend to be married
  4. 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’ lawful expectations.”

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 County 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 spousal support. Call (951) 687-6003 to learn more about our services during a free case consultation.


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