Palimony refers to the property and “spousal” support some unmarried people receive from their live-in partners when the relationship ends. FindLaw recounts that California was the first state to pass such a law. It came about as a result of the infamous 1970s legal battle between superstar actor Lee Marvin and his long-time live-in girlfriend Michele Triola. 

Marvin and Triola lived together for many years in California. According to Triola, they entered into an oral agreement whereby she gave up her career to focus on his in return for his promise to give her half his property and continuing support in the event they split up. When they ultimately did, Triola sought to enforce the oral contract. 

Lower court rulings 

Triola initially won at the trial court level. Marvin appealed, but the appellate court upheld the trial court’s ruling, holding that two consenting adults, married or unmarried, could enter into a binding oral agreement. Marvin once again appealed. 

Supreme court ruling 

Ultimately the California Supreme Court sided with Marvin and overruled the appellate court. While the justices agreed that two consenting adults can make an oral contract, they held that Triola presented insufficient evidence that she and Marvin had such an oral agreement. Marvin consequently had to pay Triola nothing. 

Cohabitation agreement 

Should you decide to begin living with someone in California without benefit of marriage or a registered domestic partnership, both of you need to protect your respective financial interests. An oral agreement will not necessarily accomplish this since such agreements are difficult to legally enforce. Rather, you and your significant other should draft and sign a written cohabitation agreement that clearly spells out the promises you make to each other as to property and support if and when your relationship ends.