How Does Alimony in California Work After 10 Years of Marriage?

Let's dispel urban legend about the 10 year marriage mark and what it really means regarding alimony

How does being married for 10 years or more affect alimony in California?

You are married for 10 years or more. Maybe it is 10 years and three months or 20 years.

  1. What effect does a marriage of over 10 years have on alimony in California?
  2. Is it a retirement contract for the spouse who receives support?
  3. Does the spouse paying support have a chance of terminating alimony before the other spouse's remarriage or either spouse's death?

In this article, we explore the importance of the 10-year mark on alimony, and the truths versus urban legends that surround this topic.

For a comprehensive look at everything related to alimony, check out our informative guides on alimony in California (which is a wonderful FAQ) and a comprehensive guide on California alimony laws.

Our California divorce and family law attorneys are available for an affordable strategy session if you have questions about your long-term marriage and its impact on alimony.

We have offices in Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

- Yvette Ochoa

What does California law state about the importance of a 10-year or longer marriage?

Family Code 4336 states the following.

(a) Except on written agreement of the parties to the contrary or a court order terminating spousal support, the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties where the marriage is of long duration.

(b) For the purpose of retaining jurisdiction, there is a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence that a marriage of 10 years or more, from the date of marriage to the date of separation, is a marriage of long duration. However, the court may consider periods of separation during the marriage in determining whether the marriage is in fact of long duration. Nothing in this subdivision precludes a court from determining that a marriage of less than 10 years is a marriage of long duration.

(c) Nothing in this section limits the court's discretion to terminate spousal support in later proceedings on a showing of changed circumstances.

(d) This section applies to the following:

(1) A proceeding filed on or after January 1, 1988.

(2) A proceeding pending on January 1, 1988, in which the court has not entered a permanent spousal support order or in which the court order is subject to modification.

- Family Code 4336

What is section 4336 really telling us about alimony after 10 years of marriage?

  1. The spouses can agree to anything different from what this code section states.
  2. This code section does not prevent the court from terminating alimony-meaning a spouse will never receive alimony from the other spouse.
  3. So long as the spouses did not agree to the contrary and the court did not terminate spousal support, the court retains its power indefinitely in a marital dissolution or legal separation action where the marriage is 10 years or longer.
  4. If the marriage is 10 years or longer, there is a presumption such a marriage is a marriage of long duration.
  5. The court may, however, consider periods of separation during the marriage.
  6. Notice the word "periods" is plural. That means if the spouses separated more than once, that is a proper consideration when determining whether the marriage really hit the 10-year mark.
  7. The court also has the ability to determine a marriage of less than 10 years is still a marriage of long duration.
  8. This code section does not take away the court's power to terminate alimony in a "later proceeding" if there is a "change of circumstances." In practical experience, this applies to post judgment, alimony modification requests.
  9. The application of the section after January 1, 1988 is self-explanatory.

This code section tells you a marriage of 10 years or more is presumed to be a marriage of long duration, but that does not necessarily prevent the court from terminating alimony nor does it prevent the court from determining a marriage of less than 10 years is a marriage of long duration.

- Yvette Ochoa

How long does the court award alimony in California after 10 years of marriage?

The short answer is, it depends on the situation and the facts of your particular marriage.

Decades ago, a marriage that was at least 10 years long was nearly a retirement contract. Over the last couple of decades, California Appellate and Supreme Court decisions have interpreted the rules differently and more liberally.

Today, it is not enough to be married to the same spouse for 10 years and assume you have a long-term marriage.

The factors the court often takes into consideration include, but are not necessarily limited to the following.

  1. The disparity of income between the spouses.
  2. How long after the 10 year mark did the marriage continue? There is a big difference between 10 ½ years and 20 years when evaluating the duration of alimony.
  3. The earning capacity, ability and opportunity of the lower earning or unemployed spouse.
  4. The marital standard living as frugal, middle-class, upper - middle-class, or lavish.
  5. The factors set forth in California Family Code 4320.

What if there is a dispute whether the marriage actually hits the 10 year mark?

That is common. Spouses often have disputes regarding the date of separation. California Family Code 70 defines date of separation.

Please read the article we wrote on this topic, linked below

What if the spouses cannot agree on the length of the marriage?

If spouses cannot reach an agreement regarding the length of their marriage, the court has the power to order that issue be determined at a separate trial.

A separate (called bifurcated) trial is on a limited issue. The court's ruling on an issue like date of separation may have a significant impact on the duration of alimony and even the division of assets.

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