What is a Marvin Action?

What is a Marvin Action?

The term Marvin Action or Marvin Claim derived from a landmark case, Marvin v. Marvin, where Michelle Marvin lived with actor Lee Marvin for seven years without marriage. A Marvin claim is not a specific cause of action with its own set of elements that a party must prove, it is simply the term for any type of claim filed by an unmarried partner for support and assets stemming from the non-marital relationship. 

A Marvin Claim revolves around whether the parties in the non-marital relationship created an explicit, implied, or oral contract, business partnership, or other commercial obligations during their relationship. The moving party in the Marvin Claim will have to prove all elements for their civil commercial claim relating back to the contract. A few examples of civil commercial claims include fraud, misrepresentation, injunctions, and conversion. This is a big hurdle, and it is this burden of proof that makes winning a “Marvin Action” so difficult. 

In Marvin, Michelle claimed a right to support payments and one-half of the property, which was in Lee’s name alone, but was acquired during their cohabitation. Michelle and Lee entered an oral agreement to combine their efforts and earnings, and to share equally in all property accumulated.  Michelle gave up a promising career in the film industry because she claimed Lee promised to take care of her and support her for her entire life. 

The court found that non-marital partners have the right to enforce express or implied agreements for support or property sharing in the event of separation.  Unfortunately, when the court reconsidered this case on remand, it found that Michelle and Lee never agreed to share their property nor did Lee agree to financially support Michelle. In the end, the Court of Appeal also reverse the trial court’s award of $104,000 to Michelle to allow her to rehabilitate or to learn new employable skills. 

The takeaway from the Marvin case is that yes, you do have a legal cause of action, but proving your right to reimbursement, support or property based on representations made during the relationship is extremely difficult to do. 

How likely am I to win a Marvin action?

Unlike divorce, a Marvin Claim does not take place in family court because it is a civil case to enforce a contract rather than a divorce.  Under a Marvin Claim, the Court will consider how long you and your partner lived together, who paid for the property, and whether one party financially supported the other party. A common defense to a Marvin Claim is that there is no legally enforceable cohabitation agreement or contract. A legally enforceable contract requires the element of “consideration.” Consideration is promising one thing in exchange for another. However, the Court in Marvin determined that a Court should not enforce an express contract that is explicitly founded by the consideration of “meretricious sexual services.”  As noted above, it is extremely difficult to prove the existence of a non-written contract made during the relationship. 

What are the problems with a Marvin Action?

  1. A Marvin Action is expensive and there are no guarantees that you will win.
  1. After the legalization of same-sex marriage, the Court tends to hold that if you want the rights and protections of marriage, then you have to get married. You may have a better chance of winning if you were cohabitating before same-sex marriage became legally recognized.
  1.  It is very difficult to establish the terms of an oral contract.  The moving party must prove that the parties intended to enter a commercial transaction, not simply a romantic “I owe you” or promise.
  1. There are often time limits to certain claims that can be made. For example, the statute of limitation for an oral agreement is two years for a Marvin action, which means that if you want to enforce an agreement made more than 2 years ago, you may not be able to raise this in court because too much time has passed.

Can I get alimony in a Marvin Action?

A non-marital partner has no right to spousal support or “alimony”. The person seeking damages may recover the difference between the reasonable value of household services and the reasonable value of support received, if the party can demonstrate that they rendered their household services with the expectation of monetary compensation. 

If you want to read further about Marvin actions, check out this fantastic article in the Daily Journal here.

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