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# 501 Living together: Written contracts

mp3 #501 Living Together - Written Contracts (mp3 file)

Family Law matters are very complex. Many who try to handle these matters on their own quickly find themselves overwhelmed and out of favor with the courts. Often times costs are cited as the reason for self representation. However, most people with assets and retirement plans stand to lose significant amounts of money, or worse, lose custody of their children if they are not properly represented. Continue here to be referred to an experienced and insured Family Law attorney:


When unmarried couples who have been living together split up, how do they decide who gets what? Is one partner entitled to monthly support payments, called "palimony," just as one spouse may obtain alimony or spousal support in a divorce or dissolution settlement? And is one partner entitled to 50% of the property acquired by both partners during the period they lived together, just as one-half of the community property goes to each partner in a divorce or dissolution settlement? These questions were considered by the California Supreme Court in its famous Marvin v. Marvin decision in 1976. In this case, film actor Lee Marvin and Michelle Triola lived together for six years. She claimed that they had an oral agreement that she would give up her career as a singer and entertainer, and he would provide for all of her financial needs for the rest of her life, and that half of all the property acquired during their life together would be half his and half hers. Lee Marvin denied that they had any such agreement.

The Marvin case is an important one for couples who are living together to understand. The California Supreme Court came to these conclusions in the Marvin case:

1-The court decided that unmarried couples are not covered by the community property laws that cover married couples, when death or separation ends the relationship and a controversy arises about division of the property that was acquired during the relationship.

2-The court decided that unmarried couples may make verbal or written contracts between themselves concerning their property, and these contracts may be enforced. They may contract to share all property equally, or they may agree to keep separate whatever each partner earns or buys, or they may make whatever arrangement they both agree to make.

3-The court decided that even if there is a verbal or written contract between the two unmarried people who are living together, the court may still find that there was an implied contract or partnership agreement between them, and this implied contract will be enforced just as if there were a formal or express contract. The court will look at all the facts and circumstances of the couple's relationship, to determine whether or not there was an implied contract about their property.

4- The court decided that even if there is no oral contract, no written contract, and no implied contract, the court will still presume that the couple intended to deal fairly with each other, and the court will make sure that both partners are treated fairly in the property settlement. The court uses such legal theories as a resulting trust or constructive trust, to prevent the unjust enrichment of one partner at the expense of the other partner. For example, if one partner keeps house while the other partner works outside the house, the homemaking partner may be entitled to the reasonable value of household services rendered, less the reasonable value of support received.

If you are living together without being married, it is in your best interest to have a written contract with your living companion. You do not have the legal protection that the law gives to married couples. Verbal agreements are difficult to prove and difficult to remember accurately. And leaving it up to a court, to find an implied contract or to make an equitable property settlement, may not have the result you and you partner-intended. The only way to avoid these uncertainties is to draw up a written contract, at the time when you begin your living together relationship. Do not wait until problems develop, before drawing up your written contract. You may design your contract to say exactly what you want it to say, and you can say it in simple English. It does not need to be in complicated legal language. The contract should be signed and dated by both of you, and it would be wise to have your signatures notarized. You should have a signed copy, and be sure to keep your copy in a safe place.

You may find it helpful to have an attorney draw up a contract to cover your situation. Or you may prefer to write your own agreement, and then have it reviewed by an attorney.

Sample written agreements may be found in low-cost books written by California attorneys. Such books may be available at your local bookstore or at your library. The sample contracts may fit your situation, or they may need to be altered to reflect your own ideas. These books about living together are written for the average person, and contain sample contracts such as the following:

--a living together contract designed to keep property separate,

--a living together contract designed to pool and share property,

--an agreement covering a joint purchase,

--an agreement covering a joint project,

--an agreement covering homemaker services,

--an agreement covering household expenses and personal idiosyncrasies

--an agreement designed for struggling artists,

--an agreement for people in school.

--an arbitration clause for any of the agreements, and

--a living together certificate for the unmarried couple.

Most of the sample agreements assume that the couple is a man and a woman, but they also apply to gay male and lesbian couples as well.

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