California does not recognize community property rights between cohabiting couples and does not recognize “common law marriage”, and therefore does not protect those who opt out of traditional marriage or registered domestic partnerships. There are no automatic property rights or support rights under the California Family Code for unmarried cohabitants. Though there may be judicial recognition and enforcement of express or implied agreements between unwed cohabitants, such as breach of contract, partnership theories, constructive trust, declaratory relief, specific performance, quantum meruit and other equitable remedies, the legal process to obtain such recognition is likely to be emotionally torturous and very costly in the absence of a clear, written agreement.
Therefore, it is important for unmarried couples living together to discuss and reach agreements on financial and property rights if the relationship ends. These agreements should be reflected in a cohabitation agreement and testamentary documents such as wills or trusts.
Palimony is a combination of the words pal and alimony coined by celebrity divorce attorney Marvin Mitchelson in 1977 when his client Michelle Marvin (Marvin v. Marvin, 8 Cal. 3d 660 (Cal. 1976) filed an unsuccessful suit against the actor Lee Marvin. Palimony is a popular term, not a legal term, and is often used to describe the division of financial assets and real property when parties end an unmarried domestic relationship. Unlike alimony or spousal support, which is often provided for by law, palimony is not guaranteed to unmarried partners. There must be a clear agreement, written or oral, by both partners stipulating the extent of financial sharing and/or support in order for palimony to be granted. Palimony cases are determined in civil court as a contract matter, rather than in family court, as in cases of divorce.