You likely already know that you may be able to obtain spousal support when you seek a California divorce. But did you know that you likewise may be able to obtain support when you seek to end your nonmarital relationship? As FindLaw explains, California’s unique palimony law allows some cohabitating persons to receive the equivalent of spousal support when their relationship ends.

The concept of palimony came about as the result of a very high-profile California case in 1971. Michelle Triola sued famed actor Lee Marvin for half of his property as well as “spousal” support when the unmarried couple’s long-term live-in relationship ended. Michelle alleged that she and Lee had orally agreed to exchange her earnings and services during the relationship for his promise to give her half of their “marital” property plus “spousal” support if and when they split up.

The Marvin case

After five years of front-page litigation, the case wound up in front of the California Supreme Court. The appellate court had sided with Michelle, ruling that an oral contract between two cohabitating adults is just as enforceable as any other contract. That court noted that the relationship itself implies that such a contract existed. The California Supreme Court, however, took a more case-specific approach and sided with Lee, ruling that the couple had no contract, oral, implied or written.

Cohabitation agreement

If you contemplate entering into a cohabitation arrangement or are already in one, your best strategy is for the two of you to draft and sign a written agreement setting forth each party’s rights and responsibilities, as well as the property arrangements and palimony provisions, if any, should your relationship end in the future.

While this educational information is not legal advice, it can help you understand palimony and what to expect.