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Watts v. Watts

    Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff Watts and Defendant Watts cohabitated for twelve years. During the relationship the parties held themselves out to be married. Plaintiff is bringing this claim to recover property from the defendant based on multiple theories of recovery.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Cohabitating parties may seek recovery following the end of the relationship under contract law, unjust enrichment, and partition.

    Facts. Shortly after they met, Defendant induced Plaintiff to move in with him and quit her job. Defendant “indicated” that he would provide for Plaintiff. The parties held themselves out as husband and wife and Plaintiff took Defendant’s surname. The parties had two children, filed join tax returns, and had a joint bank account. Plaintiff was listed as Defendant’s wife on his medical insurance and life insurance policies. During their twelve year relationship, Plaintiff cared for their children and provided homemaking services. Plaintiff also contributed personal property to the relationship. Plaintiff also performed several duties for Defendant’s business and a business she started with Defendant’s sister in law. Plaintiff is no longer able to return to her business since the relationship with Defendant ended.

    Issue. Can Plaintiff go forward with her claims against Defendant?
    Can Plaintiff proceed with her claim under the divorce statute?
    Can Plaintiff proceed with her contract claim?
    Can Plaintiff proceed with her unjust enrichment claim?
    Can Plaintiff proceed with her partition claim?

    Held. Yes. Plaintiff can proceed with her contract, unjust enrichment, and partition claims, but not her claim under the divorce statute.
    Plaintiff cannot recover under the divorce statute because the legislature did not intend for those statutes to apply to unmarried cohabitants. Further, Plaintiff’s argument that the statute applies based on marriage by estoppel is unsuccessful because the Court is unwilling to use the parties’ behavior to apply the statute in a situation where the legislature did not intend for it to apply.
    Plaintiff argues that the parties created a contract to share the property accumulated during the relationship equally. Defendant argues that such a contract violates public policy, but the Court disagrees stating that a bargain is not invalid merely because there is an illicit relationship between the parties. Also, there appears to more than just sexual relations as consideration under these facts. Plaintiff alleges that she passed up career and business opportunities. The Court finds that Plaintiff can bring a claim based on contract because there are facts, such as Plaintiff quitting her job in reliance on Defendant’s promise, to support Plaintiff’s contention that there was a contract.
    Plaintiff argues that Defendant unjustly benefited from her services during the relationship and that Defendant should have to reimburse her for the value of her services. The elements required to recover under unjust enrichment are: (1) a benefit conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff, (2) the defendant has knowledge of the benefit, and (3) acceptance of the benefit without paying for it is inequitable. The Court found that Plaintiff alleged facts sufficient for each element; therefore, the Court held that Plaintiff can go forward with her unjust enrichment claim.
    Partition applies when property is owned by more than one party. The Court finds that the Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to go forward on her partition claim.

    Discussion. The Court held that Plaintiff could go forward with her contract claim, unjust enrichment claim, and partition claim to recover from Defendant, even though the parties were not married.


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