Courts may inquire into the conduct of the parties to determine whether that conduct demonstrates an implied contract or implied agreement of partnership or joint venture, or some other tacit understanding between the parties. The courts may, when appropriate, employ principles of constructive trust or resulting trust. Finally, a non-marital partner may recover in quantum meruit for the reasonable value of household services rendered less the reasonable value of support received if the non-marital partner can show that he rendered services with the expectation of monetary reward.
Michelle Marvin brought an action against Lee Marvin, a man with whom she had lived for approximately six years, in which she alleged that she and Lee entered into an oral agreement that during the time they lived together they would combine their efforts and earnings and share equally the property accumulated through their individual or combined efforts, and that Michelle would render services to Lee as companion, housemaker, housekeeper and cook, give up her career as an entertainer and singer, and that Lee would provide for all her financial support for the rest of her life. Michelle further alleged that later she was forced to leave Lee's household at his request; he refused to pay any further support to her and refused to recognize that she had any interest in the property accumulated while they were living together. Michelle prayed for declaratory relief, asking the court to determine her contract and property rights, and also to impose a constructive trust upon one-half of the property acquired during the course of the relationship. The trial court denied Michelle's motion to amend her complaint to allege that she and Lee affirmed their agreement after Lee's divorce became final, and thereafter granted Lee's motion for judgment on the pleadings.
Did the trial court err in its decision to grant Lee Marvin's motion for judgment on the pleadings?
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. The Court held the terms of the contract as alleged by Michelle did not rest upon any unlawful consideration, that it furnished a suitable basis upon which the trial court could render declaratory relief, and the trial court therefore erred in granting Lee's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Court held generally that while the provisions of the Family Law Act did not govern the distribution of property acquired during a non-marital relationship, and such a relationship remained subject solely to judicial decision, the courts should enforce express contracts between non-marital partners except to the extent that the contract was explicitly founded on the consideration of meretricious sexual services. The Court further held that in the absence of an express contract, the court should inquire into the conduct of the parties to determine whether that conduct demonstrated an implied contract, agreement of partnership or joint venture, or some other tacit understanding between the parties, and that courts may also employ the doctrine of quantum meruit, or equitable remedies such as constructive or resulting trusts, when warranted by the facts of the case. Moreover, the court ruled, Michelle's complaint could be amended to state a cause of action founded on theories of implied contract or equitable relief.