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Equitable Recovery Against an Ex

It is true that California's Family Code does not govern non-marital relationships and distributions of property... but California's Civil Code does.

For reasons unknown, I have had a number of "Bad Relationship" cases. The first one involved a jilted groom angry with his ex-fiance who swiped more than her share of their joint bank account. Later, I defended a lady whose former long term boyfriend wanted to be reimbursed for building her a dog house, among other things. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

While the idea of suing your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend may seem silly, consider the following re-life scenario: The couple spend 18 years together and have 4 children together. One party foregoes a formal education and pursuit of a better career to be available to raise the children. She also supports the career of her partner with the expectation that any income will be shared and she will be provided for. They buy a home together. They buy furniture and other assets together. Everything is shared. Then one day, the partner with the higher earning capability decides the relationship is over and everything should belong to him. Is it fair that the partner who was asked and encouraged to stay home and raise a family be stripped over her home and everything in it? The law acknowledges the inequity to such a situation and provides a remedy.

Long term ex-partners may seek equitable remedies in civil court pursuant to a case known as Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal. 3d 660. See this article, Spousal Support For Unmarried Couples: The Marvin Action, in the San Diego Union Tribune for a more in depth look at Marvin v. Marvin and other supporting case law.

The legal concept behind the Marvin action is that partners enter into agreements and contracts throughout their relationship. Just as in a business partnership, when one party is unjustly enriched through the support of the second partner, the second partner is also entitled some some benefit.

Here are facts in favor of a partner's recovery:

  • The parties held themselves out to the public as husband and wife;
  • The longer the relationship, the better;
  • The more stable the relationship, the better;
  • "Clean hands" on the part of the Plaintiff;
  • Plaintiff suffering injustice at the hands of the Defendant;
  • The children took male's surname;
  • The parties pooled their financial resources;
  • The parties used joint accounts to make purchases and pay bills;
  • The parties made decisions jointly;
  • Property was taken in joint title; and
  • The parties filed joint tax returns.

Theses factors are neither requirements nor an exhaustive list of considerations. As our society progresses away from traditional marriages, more individuals will likely be based with a similar situation to that described above. The same situation can apply to same-sex couples just as easily, so long as there is a resulting inequity. While the court system is not the place for quibbles, anyone left with a serious financial equity after a ending a "like marriage", long term, relationship -- such as the loss of ownership in real property -- should consider consulting an attorney.

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