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If you currently live with someone, but the two of you have not married or established a registered domestic partnership, you need to know about a law unique to California. Known as the palimony law, it allows you, under some circumstances, to obtain property and spousal support from your significant other should your relationship end. In other words, palimony works similarly to property settlement agreements and spousal support for married people who divorce. 

California’s palimony law came about back in the 1970s as the result of a high-profile dispute between Lee Marvin, a superstar actor of the time, and Michelle Triola, the woman who lived with him for years without benefit of marriage. 

When Marvin and Triola parted company, she took him to court, demanding half of his property plus alimony. She based her claims on an alleged oral agreement the two of them had made whereby she agreed to give up her career and support his. In exchange, he agreed to give her half his property and alimony if their relationship ended. 

What do California courts say about palimony and oral agreements? 

The trial court granted Triola’s petition and Marvin appealed. The appellate court upheld the trial court, noting that any two adults, including unmarried ones, can enter into a binding oral contract. Marvin again appealed, this time to the California Supreme Court. 

The Supreme Court overruled the appellate court. While it agreed that two adults can indeed enter into a binding oral contract, it nevertheless held that Marvin and Triola had not, in fact, entered into such an agreement. She walked away with nothing. 

If you have given up your career to support your partner’s, commit your promises to each other in writing. Assuming the agreement specifically sets forth who gets what in the event of a break-up, it will provide you evidence should you request palimony from a California court.