Many states across the country recognize common law marriage. When you live with someone long enough, you gain the rights of legally-married couples. When married couples get divorced, they are entitled to certain property rights. California is not one of those states. In order to enjoy the benefits of marriage, you must actually get married. However, there is one benefit that the state may extend to long-term partners. If you and your partner are together for long enough, you may be entitled to financial support after a breakup.
Palimony in California
This financial support is known as palimony and dates back to the 1970s. In 1976, actor Lee Marvin and Michelle Triola decided that their relationship was no longer working. They weren’t legally married, so Marvin likely assumed that he didn’t owe his ex-girlfriend anything after the breakup. Triola had other ideas. She filed a lawsuit against Marvin and demanded to receive financial support similar to alimony. She argued that she had lived with Marvin for 7 years, given up her career to take care of him, and handled all household matters. As a result, she became reliant on his income. After the breakup, it would be unfair to punish her by denying financial support.
The California court did not reject her argument. In fact, the court’s decision set the framework for what we know as palimony today. In short, the court explained that a partner can be entitled to financial compensation after a breakup, even if they were not married or did not have a contract. Palimony, which is basically spousal support, can be awarded in certain situations.
When Can Palimony Be Awarded?
There are limited situations in which palimony can be granted. In most cases, there are two scenarios in which a partner can get palimony. The first involves what is known as a “putative spouse.” The second involves a contractual relationship.
Putative Spouse: You may be able to collect palimony if you mistakenly believed that you were married. However, this mistaken belief must be (a) reasonable and (b) in good faith. When might something like this happen? Maybe your marriage is inherently void because it is based on fraud. Or, maybe there was a clerical error at the courthouse and your marital paperwork was never filed. Either way, you must be able to prove that you honestly believed you were married. When this argument is successful, the rights of a spouse can be imputed (or extended) to you.
Contractual Relationship: When you are in a romantic relationship you may have certain understandings with your partner. When these private agreements involve things like money and property, things can become complicated when you break up. California may authorize palimony if there is evidence to show that you and your partner had a contractual arrangement that was similar to marriage. This arrangement can be verbal, written, or implied.
Evidence that may support the existence of a contractual relationship include:
- Comingling of assets
- Sharing of income and property
- Co-signing major purchases
- Shared credit cards, and
- Naming your partner as a beneficiary for retirement and health benefits.
What Factors Will Impact a Request for Palimony?
Courts will only grant palimony in certain situations. Factors that will be important in a palimony case include:
- The length of your relationship
- Whether you abandoned your career to support your partner
- Whether you provided financial support to help your partner in their education or career
- Whether you were the primary caretaker of shared children
- The existence of a written agreement, and
- Signs that an implied palimony agreement existed.
If you gave up a lot to support your partner, or came to rely on his or her income, you may be able to secure palimony for a period of time. However, like alimony itself, payments will not be around forever. The payments are only intended to help you transition to single life and get on your feet.
Draft a Cohabitation Agreement
You can avoid the uncertainties of a breakup by drafting a cohabitation agreement with your partner. You can think of it as a prenuptial agreement for unmarried couples. This private contract gives you the ability to write down the terms of your relationship and what will happen in the event of a breakup. Written contracts, including cohabitation agreements, will always be helpful if there is a dispute between you and your partner.
Do You Have More Questions?
Have you recently split up with your longtime partner? Do you need financial support after the breakup? Is your ex not responding to your requests for help? Our Los Angeles family law attorneys can help. Call us today to learn about whether or not you may be able to get palimony. We will help you understand your legal rights. Call us today to schedule a free consultation.