Family Law Keyed to Weisbergback
Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff and defendant lived in a nonmarital relationship, with an oral agreement to share equally all property accumulated. Upon dissolution of their relationship, plaintiff brought suit to enforce the oral agreement.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. The California court found that partners in nonmarital relationships may bring claims for property division based on both express and implied contracts.
Facts. Plaintiff and defendant lived together for seven years without marrying, with all property acquired during this time taken in defendant’s name. Plaintiff avers that she and defendant entered into an oral agreement where the parties would combine their efforts and earnings and share equally all property accumulated as a result of their efforts. Plaintiff agreed to give up a lucrative career as a singer and entertainer and assume the role of homemaker, with defendant agreeing to provide for all of plaintiff’s financial support. Defendant compelled plaintiff to leave his household in May of 1970, and continued to provide support to her until November of 1971. Thereafter, he refused to provide further support. Plaintiff brought suit to enforce the oral agreement, claiming that she was entitled to half the property and to support payments. The trial court granted judgment on the pleadings for the defendant.
Issue. Did the trial court err in granting defendant judgment on the pleadings?
Held. The trial court erred in granting defendant judgment on the pleadings because the plaintiff’s complaint states a cause of action for breach of an express contract, and can be amended to state a cause of action independent of allegations of express contract.
Defendant first and foremost claims that the alleged contract should not be enforced because it violates public policy due to its close relationship to the immoral character of the relationship between plaintiff and defendant. However, a contract between nonmarital partners is unenforceable only to the extent that it explicitly rests on the consideration of meretricious sexual services. Courts should look to the consideration underlying such agreements to determine there enforcement.
Defendant secondly claims that the contract violated public policy because it impaired the community property rights of Betty Marvin, his lawful wife. However, there is no reason that enforcement of the contract between plaintiff and defendant against property awarded to defendant by the divorce decree will impair any right of the lawful wife; therefore it is not against pubic policy.
Defendant next contends that enforcement is banned by civil code requiring all contracts for marriage settlements to be in writing. However, a marriage settlement is an agreement in contemplation of marriage, an the present contract does not fall within this definition.
Previous precedent has held that the Family Law Act suggests that property accumulated by nonmarital partners in an actual family relationship should be divided equally. Although courts have generally not recognized the fact, common law principles hold that implied contacts can arise from the conduct of the parties. Courts have allowed partners to retain a proportionate share of funds or property contributed to a relationship, but have disallowed such an interest based on contribution of services. Because the Family Law Act is intended to eliminate fault as a basis for dividing marital property, implied contractual claims should be allowed in nonmarital relationships.
Discussion. The Court examined how the distribution of property acquired in a non-marital relationship should be governed. The court allowed not only plaintiff’s claim that an express contract existed and should be enforced, but also found that implied contracts may be found in such situations.