San Diego Padres Player Brian Giles Sued by Ex-Girlfriend for ''Palimony''

What are your rights if you live together, but aren’t married? Is California a Common Law Marriage state?

September, 2009

Brian Giles, a San Diego Padres player was sued by his former girlfriend for breach of express contract, among other things in November 2008. Essentially, Giles’ ex-girlfriend, Cheri Olvera claimed that she and Giles lived together in a marriage like relationship and as such, he should be ordered to support her after they broke up and she should be entitled to half of Giles’ property.

The basis of Olvera’s claim was that when she and Giles started dating and moved in together, they entered into an oral agreement (a contract) wherein Olvera agreed to act as his companion, homemaker, confidante and partner (essentially his wife) and that she would support him emotionally in both his personal and professional life; and that in return, Giles promised her he would always provide for her and financially support her and her daughter for the rest of her life and that in the event that their relationship ended, by death, separation or otherwise, all of his property would be divided for the benefit of Olvera. Olvera claims that she upheld her end of the contract by acting as his companion, homemaker, protector, mother to their respective children, confidante, etc., and that Giles breached their agreement by refusing to financially support Olvera and failing to divide the assets collected during the course of their relationship.

Cheri Olvera never claims that she and Brian Giles were married, so is she entitled to the benefits she would have received if they had been married, i.e., alimony and equal division of assets?

In California, Common Law marriage is not recognized, no matter how long a couple has lived together and even if the relationship was a marriage type relationship. In fact, family courts have no jurisdiction over non-marital relationships and marital property laws do not apply to couples who are not legally married.

So how can a party to a non-marital relationship sue for marriage type benefits? Even though most people don’t think of it as such, marriage is a contractual relationship. In California, once a couple says “I do” their relationship and their rights regarding property are governed by state laws and rules. Unmarried couples, on the other hand, do not automatically enter into a contract when they start a relationship. However, non-married couples may have rights with regard to each other based on contract principles. In Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal 3d 660, the California Supreme Court held that courts should enforce contracts, express or implied, between non-marital partners relating to their earnings, property, or expenses. The Court recognized that in modern society, many couples live together without the solemnization of marriage and that the reasonable expectations of non-marital partners with regard to each other should be fulfilled. As stated on FindLaw.com, the Marvin Court declared four contract principles with regard to non-married couples:

1) Unmarried couples may make written contracts. 2) Unmarried couples may make oral contracts. 3) If a couple hasn’t made a written or oral contract, the court may examine the couple’s actions to decide whether an “implied” contract exists. 4) If a judge cannot determine whether an implied contract exists, she may presume that “the parties intend to deal fairly with each other” and find that one partner is indebted to the other by invoking well-established legal doctrines of equity and fairness.

In summary, if parties to a non-marital relationship enter into a contract, or behave as if they have an agreement regarding their earnings, property or expenses, the court can enforce such a contract and one or both parties may be entitled to marriage like benefits upon the breakup of the relationship.

At Mello & Pickering, LLP, we handle many different types of cases, including those involving non-married couples. Many issues can arise out of a non-marital relationship, in addition to the property issues discussed above. At Mello & Pickering, LLP, we can help you determine whether you or your ex-partner have rights regarding the property or earnings of your non-marital relationship. We also handle issues related to child custody, visitation and support, paternity, and domestic violence. Call our office today to schedule a 20 minute phone consultation or a meeting with one of our attorneys at (408) 288-7800.