P woman and D man lived together for 7 years without marrying.
P claims that they entered into an oral agreement that they would pool their efforts and earnings and would share equally any and all property accumulated.
P also agreed to give up her career as an entertainer and devote her full time to being a homemaker for D.
After the split, P sought declaratory relief to determine her contract and property rights.
P also sought to impose a constructive trust on half of the property acquired during the relationship.
Trial court dismissed P's claims.
Supreme Court of CA reversed, remanded.
Can an unmarried/cohabitating couple enter into an express contract with one another regarding disposition of property?
How should property be divided between two unmarried people who lived together?
A contract regarding disposition of property entered into by an unmarried/cohabitating couple may be enforced by the courts.
In the absence of an express agreement, courts may look to a variety of other remedies to divide property equitably.
Courts may look for an implied contract or constructive trust.
A non-marital partner may also recover in quantum meruit for the reasonable value of household services rendered less the reasonable value of support received (if it can be shown that the rendered services were done in consideration for a monetary reward).
Express contract claim
In Trutalli, the court established the principle that non-marital partners may lawfully contract concerning the ownership of property acquired during the relationship.
Review of the numerous decisions concerning contracts between non-marital partners reveals that the courts have not employed such broad and uncertain standards to strike down contracts.
A contract between non-marital partners is unenforceable only to the extent that it explicitly rests upon the immoral and illicit consideration of whore-ish sexual services.
Implied contract or equitable relief claim
In Cary, CA Ct of Appeals held that property accumulated by nonmarital partners in an actual family relationship should be divided equally.
In this case, the relationship was based on express contract alone, but court decides the issue anyway.
Vallera v. Vallera held that a nonmartal "wife" could not claim her husband's estate was community property, and that in absence of express contract, the woman is entitled to share in property jointly accumulated only in the proportion that she contributed to that property. It did not expressly bar recovery based on implied contract.
Failure of the courts to recognize an action by a nonmarital partner based on implied contract contrasts with the judicial treatment of the putative spouse.
Court disregarded the common law principle that implied contracts can arise from the conduct of the parties.
Courts have refused to recognize an interest in property based on the contribution of services, which have substantial value.
Decisions before Cary resulted in unfair distribution of property and punishes one partner, even without guilt, which the Family Law Act sought to take out of the equation w/ married partners.
People can still have expectations regarding property even without marriage.
There is no reason to assume the housework services provided were contributed as a gift than to presume that funds are contributed as a gift.
Despite the public policy goal to foster marriage, perpetuation of unfair judicial rules is neither a just nor effective way of carrying out that policy.