Palimony Gold Diggers: Law and Gender Stereotypes in the Era of No-Fault Divorce

Brian Donovan, University of Kansas

In 1977, Michelle Triola launched a multi-million dollar palimony lawsuit against her former lover, actor Lee Marvin. The concept of palimony, a form of alimony available to the unmarried, was thereafter affirmed by the California Supreme Court. This paper assesses the widespread public concern about palimony and the fierce condemnation of Triola in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Critics accused Triola’s litigation of destroying the legal obligations of marriage, but her lawsuit did not have the social impact many feared, and Triola ultimately gained no monetary reward after her decade-long court battle. Public criticism of Michelle Triola represented the intersectional world of the gold digger trope and its judgements about gender, sexuality, and social class. The conflict between Triola and Marvin allowed for a distillation and projection about widespread changes that shook up American marriages. Public discourse about the trial, and the rhetoric about gender and social class that constructed Michelle Triola as a gold digger, was a cultural way to come to terms with transformation in marriage, gender politics, and law during the 1970s.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 29. Gender, Power, and Law