Part II: The Marvin Claim

To continue our discussion on the Marvin claim from a previous blog, Michelle appealed the trial court's decision favoring the defendant, Lee Marvin, wherein the court cited that Michelle's contractual allegations stated no cause of action. Lee defended the trial court's ruling by stating that the enforcement of the alleged contract would violate public policy due to its close relationship to the immoral character of the relationship between him and Michelle. However, the Court of Appeal held that a contract between nonmarital partners is enforceable unless it is expressly and inseparably based upon illicit sexual services. Accordingly, even if sexual services are part of a contractual consideration, any severable or separable portion of the contract supported by independent consideration will still be enforced.

Lee further claims that the alleged contract violated public policy because it impaired the community property rights of Betty Marvin, his lawful wife. In this instance, the Court of Appeal held that an improper transfer of community property is notvoid ab initio or void from the beginning, but merely voidable by the aggrieved spouse. Betty Marvin, the aggrieved spouse, had the opportunity to assert her rights in the divorce action and the judgment passed on that action limited and fixed her interest in the community property. Accordingly, enforcement of the contract between Lee and Michelle against property awarded to Lee will not impair Betty Marvin's rights nor violate public policy.

Lee finally contends that enforcement of the contract is barred by Civil Code section 43.5, subdivision (d), which provides that "No cause of action arises for …breach of promise of marriage." The Court concluded that section 43.5 does not fully support Lee's contention that pooling and support agreements not accompanied by promise of marriage are barred by the section. The Court added that section 43.5 was enacted in 1939 and numerous cases have enforced pooling agreements between nonmarital partners, and neither court nor counsel referred to section 43.5.

In summary, the Court of Appeal based their opinion on the principle that adults who voluntarily live together and engage in sexual relations are as competent as any other persons to contract with regard to their earnings and property rights. The courts should therefore enforce such agreements as long as they are not based upon illegal sexual services. The Court therefore concluded that Michelle's complaint provided a suitable basis upon which the trial court can render declaratory relief. The Court further added that in the absence of express contracts, the courts may look to a variety of other remedies in order to protect the parties' lawful expectations. That is, the courts may look into the behavior and conduct of the parties or implied contracts to govern property distribution.

The trial court's judgment was reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings consistent with the views expressed by the Court of Appeal.

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*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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