What is a Marvin Agreement (Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660)?

2152023-300x300A Marvin agreement is an implied or express contract made between two nonmarried cohabitants/partners regarding property rights during a romantic relationship. Generally, unmarried partners living together can enter a variety of contracts, including but not limited to pooling their earnings to share property equally, holding property as joint tenants or tenants in common, or keeping their earnings and property separate. (Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.3d 660, 674; Hill v. Westbrook’s Estate (1950) 95 Cal.App.2d 599; Della Zoppa v. Della Zoppa (2001) 86 Cal.App.4th 1144.) If established, a Marvin agreement gives property rights to a romantic partner similar to that of a married individual. As such, a Marvin claim works similarly to a breach of contract claim but is ultimately based on equity. 

In order to prevail on a Marvin claim, a party must prove that an agreement existed between nonromantic partners to treat the property as theirs together. At Underwood Law Firm, our attorneys are more than familiar with Marvin agreements and their relationship with property rights. 

Where do Marvin Agreements come from?

In 1976, the Marvin agreement was established in the California Supreme Court case of Marvin v. Marvin. In Marvin, a woman sued a man she had been living with for seven before the end of their relationship, claiming she was entitled to half of the property acquired during their relationship and taken in the man’s name. (Marvin, 18 Cal.3d 660.) 

The Superior Court ruled in favor of the man, and the woman appealed. The California Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s holding, stating that courts should enforce agreements between nonmarital partners except to the extent the contract is explicitly found on the consideration of meretricious sexual services. (Id.) 

In Marvin, the plaintiff and defendant created an oral agreement to combine their efforts and earnings and share equally any, and all property acquired as a result of their efforts, whether individual or combined.  (Marvin, 18 Cal.3d 660, 666.) Additionally, the plaintiff and defendant would hold themselves out as husband and wife to the public, and the plaintiff would provide homemaker services, such as cooking and cleaning. (Id.

As a result of this agreement, the plaintiff sued the defendant, asserting two causes of action: (1) declaratory relief and (2) constructive trust. (Id.) 

The Supreme Court reasoned that adults who voluntarily live together and engage in sexual relations are just as competent as other individuals to contract with respect to their earnings and property rights. (Marvin, 18 Cal.3d 660, 673.) The Court stated that given the changes to society with regard to nonmarital cohabitation, it was against public policy to invalidate such agreements merely because the individuals were not married. (Id.) As such, the court held that courts should enforce both express and implied agreements unless they rest on unlawful meretricious considerations. (Marvin, 18 Cal.3d 660, 684.) 

Statute of Frauds

Generally, a Marvin agreement is not required to be in writing and signed by the party it is being enforced against unless it is such an agreement subject to the Statute of Frauds. The Statute requires certain contracts to be evidenced in writing and signed by the party the contract is being enforced against, including contracts made in consideration of marriage and contracts transferring an interest in real property. Therefore, typically, Marvin agreements are not subject to the statute of frauds. 

In Byrne v. Laura (1997) 52 Cal.App.4th 1054, the plaintiff sued the defendants, who were the heirs of her late partner’s estate, to enforce a Marvin agreement between her and her late partner. The Defendants moved for summary judgment on the basis that no Marvin agreement existed, or in the alternative, the agreement was barred by the statute of frauds. (Id.

The Court of Appeals stated that the plaintiff was entitled to a trial on her causes of action despite the lack of a written agreement. (Id.) The Court reasoned that the agreement between the plaintiff and the deceased did not fall under the categories subject to the statute of frauds because it was a cohabitation agreement. The court referred to Marvin, stating, “Marvin noted that most cohabitation agreements are oral and that cases had ‘expressly rejected defenses [to such agreements] grounded upon the statute of frauds.” (Byrne, 52 Cal.App.4th 1054, 1072.) 

What is an example of a Marvin Agreement? 

“Shawn” and “Julie” met two years ago at a party in Los Angeles. They began a romantic relationship. After being together for five years, Julie got pregnant, and the two sat down to have a discussion about their future. Neither felt the need to get married, but they agreed that they would embark on a new stage in their relationship by purchasing a home together. Shawn and Julie began house hunting, and they eventually found a beautiful house in the Hollywood Hills with a view of the entire city. Shawn did not contribute to the purchase of the house, and the title was taken in Julie’s name; however, they both agreed that the house was theirs together so that they could raise their family there. Shawn and Julie had lived in the house together for fifteen years when Julie came home one day to find Shawn with another woman. Julie kicked Shawn out of the house and told him to never come back. 

Over the course of those fifteen years, Shawn contributed his own money to make improvements and repairs to the house. Two years ago, Shawn used his money to have a contractor add a pool house to the property. Shawn also spent a lot of time cleaning the house and cooking for the entire family while Julie would go to work during the day. Although both Julie and Shawn took care of their two kids, Shawn was the primary caretaker of their two sons since Julie’s job kept her busy. Shawn now wants to sue Julie to establish his rights to the house. 

Here, Julie and Shawn have a valid Marvin Agreement, similar to the agreement of the couple in Marvin v. Marvin. Julie and Shawn pooled together their earnings for the property, Julie purchased the property, and Shawn spent a considerable amount of his money on improving and repairing the property. Shawn also provided homemaker services, such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. Finally, Shawn and Julie looked for and purchased the house in contemplation of their growing family. Therefore, it is likely that a court will find that Shawn is entitled to a share of the property because a valid Marvin agreement existed between Shawn and Julie. 

How Can the Attorneys at Underwood Law Firm Assist You? 

A Marvin agreement is an agreement, express or implied, that exists between nonmarried cohabitants. In California, courts generally enforce both express and implied agreements unless they rest on unlawful meretricious considerations. In order to have a valid Marvin claim, a litigant must prove that a valid agreement to share property existed between nonmarital partners.    

As each case is unique, litigants would be well-served to seek experienced counsel familiar with the ins and outs of Marvin agreements and the law surrounding them. At Underwood Law, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help. If you believe you have a valid Marvin agreement, are worried about your ability to establish your right to property, or if you just have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our office. 

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