Friday, November 29, 2013

Watts v. Watts case brief

Watts v. Watts case brief summary
405 N.W.2d 303 (Wis. 1987)

Plaintiff female cohabitant sought review of a judgment entered by the Circuit Court of Dane County, Wisconsin, that dismissed her action against defendant male cohabitant for failure to state a claim. The female asserted various theories to support her alleged entitlement to an accounting and a share of the male's accumulated personal and business assets.

The parties' had a 12-year nonmarital cohabitation relationship which produced 2 children.


  • The court held that the female stated a claim upon which relief could be granted that could rest on a contract, unjust enrichment, or partition theory. 
  • Neither the Wisconsin Family Code nor public policy precluded the female from asserting an express or implied contractual right to share property accumulated through the parties' joint efforts. The female could raise an unjust enrichment claim in view of the male's alleged unreasonable retention of the parties' jointly acquired property. 
  • Facts about the parties' business partnership, joint property purchases, and the female's uncompensated home and business contributions stated a partition claim, which was a proper cause of action in marital cohabitation cases. 
  • The female did not state a claim for property division under §767.255 because the parties and their children were not a "family" within the meaning of the statute, which was not intended to extend to unmarried cohabitants. 
  • The doctrine of "marriage by estoppel" did not apply because the parties' conduct could not place them within the ambit of § 767.255, which was not intended for their benefit.

The judgment that dismissed the female's action against the male for an accounting and a share of the personal and business assets accumulated during the parties' unmarried cohabitation relationship was reversed. The female stated a claim for which relief could be granted and her claim could rest on contract, unjust enrichment, or partition grounds.

Recommended Supplements and Study Aids for Property Law

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