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One year ago: Michelle Triola Marvin

October 30, 2010 |  6:05 am

Marvins Michelle Triola Marvin was a nightclub singer whose sensational court battle with actor Lee Marvin, with whom she lived for five years, established the legal concept of palimony. She died one year ago at age 75 from lung cancer.

Michelle Marvin, who legally changed her surname even though she and the actor never married, made legal history in 1976 when the California Supreme Court ruled that she and other unmarried people could sue for property division when a relationship ended.

That decision paved the way three years later for an often-sensational 11-week trial in which Michelle Marvin, represented by high-profile divorce lawyer Marvin Mitchelson, was awarded $104,000 for what the judge called "rehabilitative purposes."

Although an appeals court eventually overturned her award, the legal precedent underlying her court battle was left intact.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Columbia University law professor who would go on to become a Supreme Court justice, said in 1979 that the case illustrated "the further breakdown of the legal line between married and unmarried union."

For more on how her case made legal history, read Michelle Triola Marvin's obituary by The Times' Elaine Woo.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Michelle Triola Marvin enters court in Los Angeles with her attorney, Marvin Mitchelson, for a hearing in her trial with actor Lee Marvin. Credit: Associated Press