California does not recognize common law marriages (although the state will recognize a common law marriage if valid in another state). Only eleven states (and the District of Columbia) remain which recognize common law marriages. They are: Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Texas.
In California, unmarried couples who live together generally do not have the rights of married people in the event they break up. Although the landmark California case of Marvin v. Marvin (18 Cal. 3d 660, 134 Cal. Rptr. 815, 557 P.2d 106) provides some legal basis to request relief in the event of a break-up, claims based upon the Marvin decision are difficult to prove and are generally disfavored among the courts. Similarly, claims based upon "quantum meruit" ("as much as he deserves.") (Maglica v. Maglica 66 Cal. App. 4th 442, 78 Cal. Rptr. 2d 101, reh. denied, and modified (no change in judgment), 66 Cal. App. 4th 1367C, cert. denied, 1998 Cal. LEXIS 8314) are generally disfavored. There remains a strongly held belief that marriage solemnizes the relationship between two people, and that by electing to live together outside of marriage, the parties have agreed not to be bound by the rules applicable to married couples. Nevertheless if a contractual agreement can be proven to exist between two unmarried cohabitants, a court may grant some relief. The agreement may be expressly made between the parties or may be implied by their conduct.
For a case involving tax issues wherein a court recognized payments made pursuant to a settlement between two people formerly living together as being similar to a divorce settlement, see Violet A. Reynolds v. Commissioner (T.C. Memo 1999-62). Bear in mind, however, the payments were voluntary, and the tax court did not rule on the enforceability of the payments. The only issue the Tax Court decided was the taxability of the payments by the recipient.
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Copyright © 1999 Roy A. Barry, all rights reserved.