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The California Supreme Court is set to take a second look at one of its most famous cases. Four justices voted Wednesday to review an unpublished opinion that petitioners say weakens the court’s landmark 1976 ruling in Marvin v. Marvin, 18 Cal.3d 660 — a decision that allowed live-in lovers to assert contractual claims once their relationships come to an end. The ruling, from the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego, said a woman couldn’t enforce promises made to her while she and her boyfriend lived together because the couple later became engaged to marry. In urging the court to review the ruling, the woman’s attorney argued that the decision clashes with the longstanding precedent won by celebrity divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson. “Marvin stands for the proposition that cohabitation is not a bar to a legally enforceable contract between cohabitants,” San Francisco attorney Robert Kligman wrote in his petition to the court. “By refusing to sever the palimony promises from the promise to marry, the court of appeal holds that an otherwise valid palimony contract, coupled with a promise to marry, becomes unenforceable in its entirety.” Tisch Alexander lived with Howard Birndorf from 1993 to 1997 and claims that Birndorf made a variety of promises — including paying her $125,000 for every year they remained together — to induce her to move from her home in Colorado to his home in California. Although Alexander said she wanted to marry Birndorf, she said the promises were made six months before the couple was engaged. Alexander asserted that the financial agreements were severable from any unenforceable promises to marry. But in his unpublished opinion, Fourth District Justice Gilbert Nares said her claim was barred by California’s anti-heart-balm statutes, which preclude recovery for “promises of love.” The statute provides that a fraudulent promise to marry or to cohabit after marriage does not give rise to a cause of action for damages. “Love has been known to last a lifetime, but it has also been known to be notoriously evanescent,” Nares wrote for the unanimous court. “These are matters better left to advice columnists than to judges and juries.” Kligman, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, said in his petition that the appellate court’s ruling ignored the court’s holding in Marvin. He said the fact that the parties were engaged is completely irrelevant. “ Marvin does not hold or even suggest in any considered fashion that agreements between parties who choose to live together without marriage become unenforceable if there are related promises of marriage,” Kligman wrote. Chief Justice Ronald George, along with Justices Joyce Kennard, Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and Janice Rogers Brown, voted to review Birndorf v. San Diego County Superior Court, S088525.

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