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The Common Law Marriage Trap and 50 Cent

by / 0 Comments / 117 View / June 12, 2008

Hip hop star 50 Cent recently was the victim of a judicial drive-by shooting. 50 Cent has been engaged in a high profile family court action in Suffolk County, New York with his former live-in girlfriend and mother of his child.

He began a proceeding to evict her from their Dix Hills home. She then started an action in New York Supreme Court to stop the eviction. Her claim, removing all the legalese, was that they had a common law marriage.

Her attorney is a clever fellow and never actually uses the word “common law marriage” and neither did the judge, but the reality of what the judge did is clear. And if I were a betting man, I would be betting that the appellate court is going to reverse her.

Starting from the beginning, New York has abolished common law marriage. If you are not legally married, you cannot receive the protections afforded to a spouse. If a husband buys a house, the wife is automatically a co-owner regardless of whose name is on the deed. However, if a boyfriend buys a house, unless the girlfriend’s name is on the deed, she has no right to the property.

Turning to 50 Cent’s case, he bought the house in Dix Hills. The girlfriend’s name is not on the deed and she did not contribute money toward the purchase. She should have been out of luck.

But her lawyer devised a clever legal argument and swayed the court with a story of her dutiful sacrifices for 50 Cent. So, the judge accepted the attorney’s novel theories and ordered that the girlfriend can remain in the house.

The girlfriend, Shaniqua Tompkins, argued that she had a contract with 50 Cent, wherein he agreed to take care of her and to share equally in his successes. In return, Tompkins agreed to keep his home and perform other home making services for him.

The court noted that, under New York law, an oral contract that cannot be completed in a year is void. For example, an oral contract to employ someone for six months is valid. On the other hand, an oral contract to employ a particular person as long as he is alive cannot be completed in a year and is void.

After noting this law, the court then ignores it.

The court next notes the law that ”cohabitation without marriage does not give to the property and financial rights which normally attend marital relations…”

The court then noted that an agreement which is not for ”marital” type services is enforceable. However, the rule envisioned a boyfriend having the girlfriend work in his business. Turning the rule on its head, the court found that Tompkins’ housekeeping was not a ‘marital’ function but unconnected to the romantic relationship. Therefore, the judge found a contract between 50 Cent and Tompkins.

What the court did was implicitly find a common law marriage. A promise to provide support in exchange for keeping house cannot be viewed by any stretch of the imagination as anything but a ‘marital relationship.’

Next the court went on to establish a constructive trust. A constructive trust is used when someone in a legal position of trust, known as a fiduciary, causes a person to improperly transfer property. For example, X owns a piece of
property. Y, his attorney, convinces X to transfer the property to him at no cost, but on a promise that the transfer will benefit X. Once Y gets the title, he turns X out of the property. Here the court admitted that Tompkins never owned the property and never paid any money toward it. Instead, the court found that she had transferred her effort in housekeeping and therefore the court found that a constructive trust could exist for the Dix Hills house.

Again, this type of reasoning violates the law against common law marriages. If a paramour can claim an ownership interest in a house by living it in, the common law marriage can be recognized.

Whether 50 Cent will appeal it or not is up to him. I believe that this decision, by seeking a back door to resurrect common law marriages, should be reversed.

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