"No cohabitation contracts in stock" reads the sign in the window of a legal stationery store in Los Angeles. It is no joke. In the wake of the decision in Marvin v. Marvin, couples living together are suddenly anxious to protect themselves while ex-and angry roommates threaten a legal version of the Thirty Years War. Both sides in the Marvin case claim victory in Judge Arthur Marshall's ruling that Michelle is entitled to $104,000 "for rehabilitation purposes." But the point of the 14-week trial is not lost on the nation's six million cohabiting couples. "It may be hard for people in love to think about harsh legal realities," says Shelly Mandel, an official of the National Organization for Women. "But roses wither and die, and rights and protections are forever."
No one is overjoyed with the verdict. "It's embarrassing for a guy in a position like Marvin," comments a Beverly Hills attorney, "having to rehabilitate his mistress—perhaps as a manicurist." Feminists argue that her settlement is a niggardly fraction of the $1.8 million she sought.
Michelle is hoping to recoup by writing a book—and her lawyer, Marvin Mitchelson, who wants Michelle to keep his one-third of the $104,000, has asked the court to pay her legal fees to the tune of perhaps $500,000. In any event, he won't lack clients. A thousand-plus cohabitation suits have already been filed in California alone. On these pages are some of the most celebrated—plus a report from one couple who insist they'll never take their recriminations to court.
Alice Cooper is high on Mitchelson's list
Vincent Furnier (better known as rock star Alice Cooper) wasn't a bad sort, says his ex-roommate, model Cynthia Lang. "He had a sort of cornball naiveté," she once recalled. "It was like living with Ozzie Nelson." Whatever may be left of Cooper's ingenuous side is headed for a severe test. Cooper is an upcoming target for Marvin Mitchelson, and "the paladin of palimony" is excitedly calling the Cooper case "more appealing and more dramatic than the Marvin suit."
Why? "When they started out together, he was playing high school proms in Detroit," Mitchelson has explained. "She was there while he accumulated his wealth." In 1975, as Mitchelson put it, "Mr. Cooper decided he was in love with another woman." Lang said she ended the seven-year relationship feeling "like someone had pulled the rug from under me—I lost a lot of dignity." She had hoped to get the mansion they shared in Beverly Hills and some money, but didn't. "It was out of sight, out of mind after we separated."
So Lang, 27, a onetime Charlie Girl for Revlon, is suing Cooper, 34, for half his net worth, or some $5 million. Cooper's lawyer, Arthur Groman, has refused to comment on the suit. Mitchelson can't be stifled. His message to Alice played off one of the singer's biggest hits: "Welcome to your nightmare."
For Flip Wilson, trouble comes in twos
When comedian Clerow "Flip" Wilson was sued by a former live-in, he was in no mood for jokes. "It's just a cheap shot based on that Lee Marvin thing," he complained. He didn't know the half of it. Not long after that, a second woman filed too. His double trouble comes from Rosylin Taylor, 33, a former Playboy Bunny, and Kayatana Harrison, 27 (at right), a dental assistant. Both women lived with Wilson (not simultaneously) and want back pay for services rendered.
Taylor claims she gave up a weekly TV show in Miami to move in with Flip and mother his four children. They split after two and a half years, but Taylor figures her time is worth $12,500 a month, plus half his property and assets acquired during their months together. (Wilson, 45, is said to be worth $5 million.)
Harrison has more modest demands. Besides half of Wilson's assets during their one-and-a-half-year relationship, she wants only $7,500 a month. "She was his lady—she performed wifely duties," contends her lawyer, Raymond Gloozman. "I think the court will find an oral contract in our case."
Faced by double jeopardy, Wilson grouses, "Remember when Lee referred to his love for Michelle as a half-empty tank of gas? Well, I consider the Marvin decision only three-quarters of a tank of justice."
Nick Nolte says the issue is 'bedrooms'
Actor Nick (The Deep
) Nolte is another item on Mitchelson's post-Marvin agenda. "This one is a hot potato," says the lawyer, who is representing Karen Louise Eklund, 32, Nolte's roommate from 1972 to 1977.
Eklund, an actress, wants $2.5 million—half of Nolte's earnings during their five years together—plus $2 million in punitive damages for "oppression, fraud and malice." Nolte's lawyer, Howard Thaler, doesn't think she'll get it in light of the Marvin decision. "I was pleased with Judge Marshall's decision in terms of his determination that there existed no implied or expressed agreement between them," he says. Thaler is concerned, however, that the $104,000 award amounts to alimony, or "spousal support." Nolte, 38, has observed philosophically, "All of this invalidates marriage to a certain degree. Most of these suits deal with money, but we're talking about bedroom agreements." Nonetheless, the actor is now a legal husband—as of last year to Sharyn Haddad, a 23-year-old nightclub singer who has billed herself "Legs" in her act.
For Rod and Britt, it's all settled
You're in My Heart, Rod Stewart rasped in his 1978 hit single—and so she was, says Britt Ekland, 35. "He wrote it before we broke up," she said. "The words must have been true at one time." For two years the Swedish starlet lived with Stewart, 34, in a mansion in the Holmby Hills section of Los Angeles. Alas, the idyll ended. Her explanation: "Another woman." His: "On or about Sept. 1, 1977 Britt told me she thought she was 'worth half the house.' I immediately left my home and haven't talked to her since."
Their lawyers, however, spoke at length. In 1976 the California Supreme Court handed down the original Marvin decision, allowing former lovers like Michelle to file suit. In 1977 Britt demanded about $15 million from Stewart—and settled soon after for an amount described as "substantial." In view of Michelle Marvin's modest award, "Rod Stewart is probably kicking himself in the shins," lawyer Mitchelson's camp speculates. Still, it didn't ruin Stewart's love life: Last month he married actress Alana Hamilton.
Frampton won, but Penny's still fighting
For British rock star Peter Frampton, 28, and his girlfriend, Penny McCall, 30, the falling-out came last summer in the Bahamas—reportedly over another man. Until their final bitter quarrel, Penny said, "Peter and I were the rock'n'roll couple."
They met in 1972, when he was a singer with the group Humble Pie and she was the wife of the road manager. Frampton, too, was married at the time (he was divorced in 1976), but they soon moved in together. McCall claims she gave up her job as rock promoter and devoted herself solely to Frampton. "I was a damn good old lady," she said.
It involved such duties as selecting Frampton's clothes ("We were the same size—I would try them on for him") and inspiring him to write songs. "He wrote them out of love for me," she said after filing suit. "He was fulfilled, satisfied, contented. He wanted these songs to be hits for me." In the beginning, McCall remembered, everything was discussed in terms of "us or ours." After the fight, Frampton talked about "my and mine."
"Hers," according to McCall, didn't amount to much. "My allowance was cut off. My credit cards were taken back. He was punishing me."
In retaliation, McCall filed suit for half of Frampton's earnings during their five years together—as well as half the value of his 53-acre estate in Westchester County. "As much as he earned, we earned together," she claimed. A judge in White Plains disagreed. (New York, unlike California, has no legal precedent for onetime lovers suing for damages.) He ruled that Frampton and McCall never intended to marry each other and "never held themselves out to the public as husband and wife." He dismissed her complaint on the grounds that to act otherwise would condone adultery.
Frampton had argued that the affair was "only a male-female relationship," and his lawyer says the singer is "obviously gratified." McCall is appealing. How does her case compare with Lee and Michelle Marvin's? "One difference," she smiles. "They're old; we're young and trendy."
'I'd never go to court,' says Susie, who trusts Sonny to share
Entertainer Sonny Bono and Susie Coelho, who live together on six acres in Beverly Hills, are not a typical cohabiting couple. For one thing, they have actually discussed a division of the spoils, even though their informal agreement is verbal, not written.
"It's hard for most people to raise the subject," admits Susie, 25, "unless you're splitting up. What if you say something wrong? It's very touchy." Besides, she wonders, "Where do you draw the line? Do you renew your agreement every year, add more money, set a figure at 10 or 20 percent of what he makes? Where does all that end?"
Sonny seems to know. "I've made it real clear that what belongs to me belongs to me," says Bono, who admits to taking a bath in his divorce proceedings with Cher—even if his lawyer was Marvin Mitchelson. "It would be unfair to cut up what I own down the road sometime. Susie has always understood that." She agrees: "I wouldn't even dream of taking a man to court for half of what he made when I didn't contribute. Sonny and I are not building as a unit. He was already established."
Bono, 40, recently sold his Bel Air mansion to publisher Larry Flynt. In the last year he has made three films, and he has new projects, like a Vegas act, in the works. Susie feels it's important to pull in money of her own—she is still pursuing her modeling career, has made one movie, The Norsemen
, with Lee Majors, and attends acting classes two nights a week. But Sonny supports her, and she admits that her top priority is caring for him and his daughter, Chastity, 10, when she comes to visit.
Why, after four years of such live-in bliss, have they never married? Two years ago the couple came close, but the legal realities put a temporary chill on their romance. At one point Bono suggested a prenuptial agreement. "I was real upset," Coelho recalls. "I said, 'Son, couldn't you just take my word for it?' When you're romantic and emotional, that's not the most exciting thing to think about.'" Bono argues that "we make a deal on every other partnership. It covers both people. The woman should work out something amiable to protect herself." But marriage plans have been shelved—unless the couple decides to have children.
In the meantime, Bono insists, "The Marvin decision won't change this relationship. If we broke up I'd help her financially." For Susie that has to be enough. "I just couldn't sue under any circumstances," she says. "Sonny agreed he'd help me out and that's it. He would be fair. I know he wouldn't gyp me."