Thursday, November 12, 2009

Common Law Marriage: Ongoing Cohabitation Not a Requirement of Common Law Marriage

Richards v. Brown, 2009 UT App. 315, (Utah Court of Appeals, October 29, 2009).

Common Law Marriage. The trial court summarily denied Richard’s petition to recognize a common law marriage because more than one year had passed since the parties cohabitated. Richards appealed. The Court found cohabitation is not an ongoing requirement. If the parties continued to assume rights, duties, and obligation, of the marriage, and continued to hold themselves out as married, the relationship continues. A party may file to have the relationship recognized anytime during the relationship, or within one year. The Court reversed and remanded this claim and instructed the trial court to hear evidence as to the termination date of the relationship.

Unjust enrichment. Richards must show that Brown benefited from payments, which he made to her, and that failure to compensate him is inequitable. The record showed that the payments were commensurate with rents, thus no damages to him and no unjust benefit to him Affirmed.

Promissory Estoppel. Richards must show that he acted prudently and that Brown knew of his reliance on the promise to share the equity. Brown refinanced the home twice without adding him to the title; this notified him that she had no plans share the equity. Richards still had a place to live at a reasonable price. Affirmed.

Protective Order. Richards argued that a Discovery Protective Order prevented him from obtaining needed evidence. However, Richards filed a Certificate of Readiness in which he acknowledged that discovery was complete. Based on that admission, there was no reason for further discovery. Affirmed.

Full Decision available


Scott said...

It sounds like Utah just implicitly adopted Marvin v. Marvin's rule of allowing an equitable distribution of property when a quasi-married couple splits.

Although the Court affirmed Judge Lindberg's decision not to divide the "marital" residence based on Richard's failure to prove his loss with reasonable certainty, they opened the door for such claims in the future. It will be interesting to see the cases following this decision.

Grant said...

If one is less fool hardy that Richards. I think the moral of the story is, if your girlfriend promises to put your name on the title and doesn't do it, don't count on getting any interest in the home.

Perhaps if he can prove the quasi-marital relationship, he can get some kind of support to help him get by.

Scott said...

In light of Amendment 3's prohibition against giving legal effect to civil union-like relationships, I doubt it. If he doesn't prevail under his common law marriage theory on remand, I think our friend Richards will be SOL.


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