Watts v. Watts

137 Wis. 2d 506, 405 N.W.2d 303 (1987)



In Wisconsin, an action for unjust enrichment, or quasi contract, is based upon proof of three elements: (1) a benefit conferred on the defendant by the plaintiff; (2) appreciation or knowledge by the defendant of the benefit; and (3) acceptance or retention of the benefit by the defendant under circumstances making it inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit.


The case involves a dispute between parties who have cohabited for twelve years without the benefit of a marriage. The relationship produced two children and most of their properties, personal and business, where acquired during their common law union. The female filed suit for accounting and determination of her share in the property. The court dismissed the action since the Wisconsin family Code does not authorize the division of property between two unmarried persons.


Whether the female has a share on the properties jointly acquired during unmarried cohabitation.




The court held that the female stated a claim upon which relief could be granted that could rest on a contract, unjust enrichment, or partition theory. Neither the Wisconsin Family Code nor public policy precluded the female from asserting an express or implied contractual right to share property accumulated through the parties' joint efforts. The female could raise an unjust enrichment claim in view of the male's alleged unreasonable retention of the parties' jointly acquired property. Facts about the parties' business partnership, joint property purchases, and the female's uncompensated home and business contributions stated a partition claim, which was a proper cause of action in marital cohabitation cases. The female did not state a claim for property division under § 767.255 because the parties and their children were not a "family" within the meaning of the statute, which was not intended to extend to unmarried cohabitants. The doctrine of "marriage by estoppel" did not apply because the parties' conduct could not place them within the ambit of § 767.255, which was not intended for their benefit.

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