While the rumor that adultery somehow affects a divorce in California is the first and most popular myth regarding dissolution, the idea that common-law marriage exists in the state is a close second. In the event you have no idea what common-law marriage is, “common-law marriage” is the theory that if one co-habitates (lives) with another party long enough in a romantic relationship, they become legally married. While on paper, there may appear to be advantages to this, the advantages are confined to that – paper and dreams.
In fact, there is no common-law marriage in California, something that was made clear by the decision rendered in Maglica v. Maglica(1998) 66 CA4th 442, 447. In this case, the Court found that simply living together as alleged “husband” and “wife” cannot give rise to a “marriage” or other legal-like union under California law. While this may sound like a decision that clarifies a question that no one asked, in practical terms on a day-to-day basis, this means that people who live together, but are not married, and are not registered domestic partners have no interest in the other party’s personal property (bank accounts, cars, retirement accounts) or real property (houses) no matter how long they have been together.
This means that if you are in a long-term relationship with another person, and do not get married, under California law, you can expect to receive nothing. In the event this sounds horrible, like many things, the law provides an out. In this case, the out is what is known as a “Marvin action”based on the seminal case in this area – Marvin v. Marvin(1976) 134 CR 815. The decision in Marvin held that parties who were not married – but co-habitated for years in a common law marriage type of situation could enforce implied or express contracts that had been articulated between the parties over the years. The Court in Marvin also found that the judicial system could look to a variety of other remedies to protect the parties lawful expectations in the absence of marriage.
It is also worth noting for those that have been in a long term relationship without marriage, but have children, child support arises on termination of the relationship. See Family Code Section 3900. Finally, it is also worth noting for those that are in a long term non-marriage relationship that has ended, and are considering their rights, Marvinclaims must be brought in a short period of time. If you have questions about your rights as an unmarried party exiting a long term relationship, don’t just trust what advice you receive from family and friends, or the internet, but contact an attorney who can guide you between what is real – and what is a dead end, and who will advocate for you to get the protection you need. Contact our office today with any questions you may have to safeguard your financial well-being.
Christopher Sunnen, Esq. is a San Diego, CA based attorney specializing in family law and bankruptcy law.