Marvin v. Marvin
18 Cal.3d 660, 557 P.2d 106 (1976)
5 Fam.L.Rptr 3077 (1979)
122 Cal.App.3d 871 (1981)

  • Lee and Michelle lived together as an unmarried couple for seven years. She even took his name.
  • They broke up and Lee kicked her out of his house. Michelle sued Lee for half of his stuff and alimony, as if it were a divorce.
    • Michelle argued that Lee promised he’d take care of her for the rest of her life.
      • She did give up her career as a lounge singer to be a homemaker.
    • Lee argued that there was no written proof and it would be in contradiction of public policy.
      • They were not married and supportive contracts that involved sex are not enforceable.
  • The Trial Court granted summary judgment for Lee. Michelle appealed.
    • Up until this case, it was considered against public policy to enforce any contract where sex was an element of the contract because it could be construed as a form of prostitution.
  • The California Supreme Court reversed.
    • The California Supreme Court found that:
      • The Family Law Act (which covered divorces) was inapplicable.
      • However, the courts should enforce express contracts between non-married partners, unless that contract included the exchange of sexual services.
      • If there is no express contract, the courts should look to see if there is an enforceable implied contract.
    • The Court found that it should no longer be violative of public policy to enforce an oral contract between two persons where sex is a factor.
      • The Court changed their thinking on this issue because they recognized that times were changing.
    • Lee argued that Michelle had just made a gift of her services, and so there wasn’t a contract. But the Court found that she relied on Lee’s promise to take care of her because she gave up her career to be his companion (remember Contract Law?).
    • Basically, this decision allowed for equitable redress for implied contracts involving sexual relations.
  • The case went back to Family Court which found that there was an implied contract and ordered Lee to pay $104k. He appealed.
    • The $104k was not to be considered an alimony, or the division of property (Lee had millions). It was designed to help rehabilitate Michelle so that she could get some new skills and start a new career.
      • That’s different than providing support, which traditionally continues until the spouse dies or gets remarried.
  • The Appellate Court reversed.
    • The Appellate Court found that Michelle suffered no harm due to her relationship with Lee. Lee had not been unjustly enriched from his relationship with Michelle, and had never acquired anything of value from Michelle through a wrongful act.
    • In addition, Michelle could show no proof that Lee ever made a promise.
      • You have to show evidence that the implied contract existed in order for it to be enforceable.
  • Although Michelle didn’t get any money in the end, this case was important because it established the idea that the courts might be willing to enforce non-marital contracts between parties involved in a sexual relationship.
    • Probably because there were more and more unmarried couples in the 1970s.
    • These payments are known as palimony.