Romantic relationships can take many varieties and forms. While many partners desire to ensure the comfort and well-being of their partners, what happens when one partner allegedly enters into an oral contract to support the other for life? That was the issue presented to the First Appellate District recently, which upheld a lower court ruling that found the absence of a valid contract because the case lacked proof of a “meeting of the minds.”
The couple in this case was a family law attorney and a freelance writer who met in the late 1990s, when he represented her in her second divorce. Some time later, they began dating and eventually living together. According to the woman, the pair had entered into an oral contract. Allegedly, she promised to provide him with “companionship and other assistance,” and he promised to provide her with financial assistance for the rest of her life. Despite the alleged oral promise, the agreement was never put down on paper.
Eventually, the couple ended up in court when the woman accused the man of breaching his promise of lifetime financial support. At trial, the couple were the only witnesses. The woman testified that she gave up a successful writing business and her home in Modoc County to move in with the man in San Francisco. She testified that the pair had discussed for years creating a written plan dictating the terms of her support. He testified that he first learned about the potential plan during a 2013 mediation he attended because the pair was having “communication difficulties.”
At the conclusion of the trial, the court ruled for the man. The woman’s case had two major problems, according to the trial court. First, she failed to prove the existence of a valid contract. Any contract, oral or written, must have an offer and acceptance. The woman in this case did not have sufficient proof that such an offer and acceptance existed.
Her other problem, according to the trial court, was that she suffered no damages. Any civil case, such as a breach of contract case, requires the plaintiff to show that she suffered some harm that the courts can remedy through a judgment. Here, the court decided that the woman’s decision to leave her job and home in Modoc County and spend several years in San Francisco with the man didn’t cause her any compensable harm.
The appeals court upheld that ruling. California law does allow unmarried partners to create contracts, including contracts for support, as long as none of the items promised as part of the deal are “sexual services.” These contracts between partners are analyzed by the courts just like other contracts. That means that you must have proof of “mutual assent.” There must be what’s called a “meeting of the minds.” Here, the woman lacked sufficient proof of such a “meeting.”
The woman in this case testified that the man had promised to look after the woman for the rest of her life. Even assuming the court found that testimony credible, these types of very general promises to “look after” a partner may be too ambiguous to be enforceable as a consummated agreement of support.
There were other proof problems for the woman. One of the biggest ones was that her case lacked specifics in terms of important aspects of the support arrangement, including the amount of support, the impact (if any) a separation might have, and the impact (if any) a change in income might have.
The skilled San Diego family law attorneys at Roy M. Doppelt & Associates have been assisting clients throughout Southern California, including in San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista, for many years and have represented clients in a wide array of situations. For a free consultation about how our experience and resources can work for you, reach out to Roy M. Doppelt & Associates through our website or call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).
More blog posts:
Beverly Hills Mom’s Support from ‘Best Friend’ Didn’t Count as Income in Child Support Case, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Jan. 24, 2017
California Appeals Court Upholds Decision Denying Wife Retroactive Support Despite Expert Testimony, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, Aug. 2, 2016