If you cohabitate with another California resident without benefit of marriage or a registered domestic partnership, you need to know that should this relationship end, you may well be able to obtain spousal support from your former partner as well as half of his or her property.

This unique provision in California law goes by the name of palimony, and you can thank Lee Marvin, a famous actor of the 1970s for its origin. Marvin and his longtime girlfriend Michelle Triola lived together for many years before their relationship ended stormily. She proceeded to sue him for alimony and half his property in what became a multi-year court battle that tabloids across the country reported with glee.

When Triola filed suit against Marvin, she alleged that before beginning their cohabitation arrangement, the two of them made an oral agreement whereby she agreed to abandon her career to support his in exchange for him agreeing to give her alimony and half his property if and when the relationship ended. Marvin denied these allegations and the battle was on.

Ultimate court decision

Triola won at trial and Marvin appealed. The appellate court, however, upheld the trial court, holding that two adults, including unmarried ones, can indeed enter into an oral agreement such as the one Triola alleged and upheld the trial court’s award to Triola. Marvin appealed again.

Ultimately the California Supreme Court sided with Marvin and overturned the appellate court and the trial court’s property and alimony awards to Triola. While it agreed with the appellate court that two unmarried adults can enter into an oral agreement, it nevertheless held that these two particular people did not, in fact, enter into one that supported Triola’s claims.

While palimony remains a viable possibility in California to this day, your best interests dictate that you take steps to better protect yourself before you enter into a cohabitation arrangement. You and your intended partner should forgo oral agreements and promises in favor of a written cohabitation agreement that specifically sets forth who will get what in the event your relationship ends.