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Long Term v. Short Term Marriage and Why It Matters

The Length of Marriage Is Important When It Comes To Getting Divorced. Here's Why!

Length Of Marriage Determines Length of Spousal Support.

Many people ask us if they qualify for spousal support (AKA alimony) and, if so, how much and for how long? The simple answer is – it depends. It depends on a lot of factors.

The length of paying spousal support mostly depends on the length of the marriage. Under California Law, Family Code Section 4320(f), “In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances [including] the duration of the marriage.”

Generally speaking, the courts want to know whether the marriage was a “long-term marriage” or a “short-term marriage.” So, you’re likely wondering what makes a marriage long-term and what makes a marriage short-term.

Long Term vs. Short Term Marriage.

Length of marriage is defined by a general guideline in California. Generally speaking, a long term marriage is a marriage over 10 years, whereas a short term marriage is a marriage less than 10 years.

The 10-year “long-term marriage” rule, though is a guideline, it is not written-in-stone. That means should a length of marriage be close to 10 years, a spouse can make a persuasive argument in court, to have the court rule it a long-term marriage.

Calculating Length of Marriage.

The length of a marriage is calculated using two dates, (1) the date of marriage and (2) the date of separation.

The date of separation does not mean or require that a legal separation is filed. Instead, the date of separation is when there is a final breakdown of the marriage, to the point of no repair. Because the date of separation is oftentimes important, it is possible to have the date of separation litigated in court. There must be a showing of the break down of marriage. For example, new bank accounts, no intercourse, no family vacations, different residences, etc.

Why would someone want to argue a date of separation? Because it affects spousal support AND it affects the characterization of property - whether property (assets or debts) are considered community or separate property. (Click here to read more about about Community Property and Separate Property.)

A short-term marriage:

The easiest to define is a “short-term marriage”. A short term marriage is any marriage under the 10-year mark. Spousal support for a short term marriage is simply set for one-half the term length of the marriage. For example, a five-year marriage will have spousal support set for two-and-a-half years. The payor will be the spouse who makes the most, and they will pay the other spouse who needs the subsidized amount for the purpose of maintaining the marital standard of living.

A long-term marriage:

A “long-term marriage” is a marriage of at least 10 years, and there is a presumption that the court maintains its jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support indefinitely, making the spousal support award permanent. Gasp! But don't get too excited or anxious. Generally, the court is considering a wide range of factors when determining spousal support and the court has discretion to decide what is appropriate in terms of length and amount.

Some ways permanent spousal support may end are remarriage of the supported spouse, a change of circumstance financially (for example, unemployment), and even a change of circumstances for the supported party (for example, they get a new high-paying job.)

Contact Us

We, at Wells-Gibson Family Law, have ample experience when it comes to spousal support, whether we're representing the payor spouse or the payee spouse. We understand the factors that courts consider when making an order for spousal support, and we have been successful in assisting our clients in this realm. If you have any questions on how we can help you with spousal support, book a free, 15 minute consultation here.


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