ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Monday, October 27, 2008

Contracts Limerick of the Week: Marvin v. Marvin

Lee_marvinMarvin v. Marvin provides for wonderful opportunities to discuss social issues relating to promises made in the context of marriages and other forms of cohabitation. Lee Marvin and Michelle Triola Marvin lived together for six years. At the start of their relationship, Lee was married to Betty Ebeling. At the end of his relationship with Triola, Lee Marvin married Pamela Freeley. Triola alleged that she and Lee had entered into an agreement whereby they would hold themselves out as husband and wife and that they would "share equally any and all property accumulated as a result of their efforts." After the demise of their relationship, Triola sought to enforce the alleged agreement, seeking a settlement in excess of $1 million. The trial court denied Triola relief, finding such promises unenforceable on public policy grounds. The Supreme Court of California, over a strident dissent that referred to the relationship as "meretricious," found that promises of the sort alleged can be enforced by a court and that such promises can also be implied through conduct.

Dick_van_dykeIn this particular case, the trial court on remand found that there was no agreement between the parties of the kind alleged by Triola. Apparently, the court found it unlikely that Marvin could have promised half his income to Triola while still married to his first wife. Moreover, while Triola could have recovered in quantum meruit for the non-sexual services she provided to Lee, she had already been duly compensated during the course of the relationship. The trial court's award of $104,000 in "rehabilitation" damages to Triola was overturned on appeal. Not to worry. Michelle knows how to land on her feet. According to her Wikipedia entry, she has lived with Dick van Dyke (pictured) for many years.

Oooooh, Rob! How could you ever leave Laura?!?

The case is especially timely these days with the on-going controversy over recognizing gay marriages and civil unions. Interestingly, some of my women students had very little sympathy for women who live for many years out-of-wedlock with men, bear and help raise the couple's children and support the man of the house while he pursues an education and a profitable career. This new feminism (or post-feminism or whatever it is) puts the burden on women in relationships to demand legal recognition of their status. But when it came to gay relationships, many of these same women changed their tune. Where marriage is not an option, the law must protect the rights and interests of people who commit to long-term cohabitation partnerships, regardless of gender and regardless of the nature of the relationship.

I've tried a couple of variants here.  You can vote for your favorite!!

Marvin v. Marvin

The Marvin court's ruling's propitious
For relationships non-meretricious.
Michelle can recover
From Lee, her ex-lover,
If his promises weren't capricious.

Michelle and Lee lived in sin,
A fact once viewed with chagrin.
Now she can recover
From her ex-lover
If he promised to keep her in gin.

[Jeremy Telman]

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