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What’s California’s 10-year rule regarding marriage and alimony?

On Behalf of | Dec 8, 2023 | Alimony

Have you ever heard of the “10-year rule” when it comes to spousal support? If you haven’t already and you’re getting divorced in California, you probably will soon.

There’s a very common belief that, absent a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that says otherwise, a spouse cannot get long-term alimony unless a marriage lasted at least 10 years. The flip side of that is the belief that if a couple has been married 10 years or longer, a dependent spouse is always given permanent alimony.

It’s simply not true. There is, in fact, a 10-year rule that is relevant to spousal support decisions, but it’s not nearly as straightforward as rumor would make it.

A marriage of long duration: How the 10-year rule relates

The duration of your marriage can affect whether you receive spousal support – and for how long. Generally speaking, the longer a marriage lasted, the more likely the court will order some form of support for the dependent spouse. The length of time the support will continue may also be increased when a marriage was lengthy.

California Family Code § 4336 officially states that a marriage of 10 years or more is considered “a marriage of long duration.” However, it also states that nothing will prevent a court from declaring a much shorter union a marriage of long duration. When either of those situations is true, the court will then retain indefinite jurisdiction over a divorce or separation. The court may, in its discretion, order long-term or permanent alimony.

However, the law also states that the court may consider periods of separation between the couple when it makes its decision about whether or not a marriage meets the 10-year rule. In addition, should the court declare the marriage to be of long duration, there’s nothing stopping it from terminating spousal support if the circumstances of the parties involved change.

What all this means is that you can’t rely on the 10-year rule to determine issues of support. The issue is far more nuanced than many would make it seem. As a result, it’s always best to get an experienced legal take on the specifics of your unique situation as you try to look ahead and anticipate what the court may rule when it comes to spousal support.