Is There a “Ten-Year Rule” for Spousal Support in California?

If you’re embarking on the divorce process in California and wondering whether you will be receiving or having to pay spousal support (also called “alimony”), you may have heard of a “ten-year rule” with regard to spousal support. There is in fact a California Family Code statute that does relate to spousal support which looks at whether the marriage was for ten years or longer, but there are many misconceptions on what this so-called “ten-year rule” means for parties in California divorce proceedings.

It Does NOT Mean You Need to Be Married for Ten Years to Receive Spousal Support

A common misconception thrown around – usually by higher earning spouses trying to pressure their lower-earning spouses away from seeking spousal support – is that a spouse cannot seek spousal support from the other if they have not been married for ten years. Sometimes this takes the form of a five-year or seven-year minimum length for a marriage for one spouse to be eligible for spousal support.

To be clear, there is no minimum duration for a marriage in California for one spouse to be able to obtain spousal support. Generally for marriage under ten years, spousal support (when it is awarded) is awarded for half the length of the marriage – measured from the wedding date to the date of separation – and this is true whether the marriage was for 1 year or 9 years. Keep in mind there is no guarantee that support will be awarded at all, and for what amount, but this is the general rule for duration of support.

It Does NOT Mean You Get Spousal Support For Life After a Ten-Year Marriage

Another common misconception is that the “ten-year rule” means a person in a marriage of ten years or longer – again measured from the wedding date to the date of separation – then gets spousal support for life, or at least until that person remarries.

The truth is that, no, pretending to be happily married for another six months to get to that 10-year mark does not mean that you can then retire the act, file your petition, and enjoy large support checks for life. Which leads us to what the “10-year rule” does in fact mean…

It DOES Mean the Court May Have Indefinite Jurisdiction Over Spousal Support In Long-Term Marriages

Under California Family Code §4336, California courts consider marriages of at least ten years to be a “marriage…of long duration,” and, as such, the courts will maintain jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support indefinitely, absent an agreement between the parties to the contrary to terminate that jurisdiction.

What this means is that the courts will not award you spousal support for life but will retain the power to award you spousal support indefinitely in a marriage of over ten years. Meaning, the court can award you spousal support for longer than half the length of the marriage, but will not necessarily do so.

For example, if you get divorced at age 35 after an 11-year marriage and are in normal health, the court will most likely you expect to be self-supporting at some point, and therefore discontinue spousal support while maintaining the power to reorder support should things change. On the other hand, if you divorce at age 70 after 25 years of marriage, and are unlikely to ever enter or reenter the workforce, a court may well continue to order spousal support to you for a very long time if the supporting spouse continues to work. Bear in mind the retirement of each spouse and receipt of equal retirement, pension and social security benefits will be reviewed by the judge who decides the duration of spousal support and amount.

As with many aspects of spousal support in California, there are many complex factors at work, and each situation is different, but certainly whether a marriage is for less than or more than ten years may indeed prove to be an important factor in the years following your divorce, just not for the reasons you may have heard.

Guidance on Your California Spousal Support Questions From a Westlake Village Family Law Attorney

If you would like to learn more about how our office can provide guidance on your spousal support issues or any other California family law issues you are facing in Ventura County or Los Angeles County, contact the Zonder Family Law Group office today at (805) 777-7740 or (818) 877-0001, or schedule your strategy session using easy-to-use online form here.