The 10-Year Marriage Rule in California Divorce

If you are in the midst of a divorce or planning to get divorced, you’ve probably heard quite a few rumors about the problems you can expect to face. One of them may be the “10 year rule.” Many people believe that once a marriage has lasted for ten years, a spouse automatically becomes eligible to receive alimony indefinitely, but if the marriage was shorter, spouses are barred from seeking alimony, also known as spousal support.

While passing the 10-year mark can affect alimony awards, the effect is nowhere near as dramatic as some people expect. To understand why, we need to look at how spousal support decisions are made under California law.

Alimony is Never Automatic

The only time that an award of alimony is automatic in divorce is when a couple has a pre-or postnuptial agreement specifying alimony arrangements and the factors that trigger those arrangements have been met. In all other cases, a spouse requesting alimony must prove that they need help to become self-supporting.

So, regardless of how long a couple has been married, the court will review a variety of factors to determine whether an award of alimony is appropriate. These factors include:

  • The age and health of each spouse
  • The income of each spouse
  • The current earning capacity of each spouse
  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The amount of property and debt each spouse holds independently
  • Whether one spouse helped the other obtain an education, training, or professional license
  • Any history of abuse during the marriage
  • Whether one spouse set aside career to care for the home or children
  • The impact that working would have on child-rearing responsibilities

The court will look at how much the spouse requesting support would need to maintain the same lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage and whether the other spouse has enough resources to make up the difference.

Alimony Can Be Awarded for a Set Period of Time or Last Indefinitely

Generally, courts determine that spousal support payments will only continue for “a reasonable period of time” to enable the lesser-earning spouse to gain the skills or experience to support themselves. There is a general assumption that the longer a couple has been married, the more likely it is that one spouse has focused on building a career and that the other has concentrated efforts on the home, and that therefore the disparity between their earning abilities is greater. For that reason, spousal support awards are generally lengthier in longer marriages, but either spouse can submit evidence to show why that assumption should not apply.

The law specifies that a “reasonable period of time” for an alimony award is generally half the length of the marriage—unless the marriage is “of long duration.” The 10-year rule refers to the fact that when a marriage has lasted ten years or more, it is considered to be a marriage “of long duration” so that the guideline of alimony lasting for half the length of the marriage no longer applies. A court can order alimony to continue indefinitely. But that is rare.

Permanent Alimony Is Not Necessarily Permanent

When some couples hear the word “permanent” in association with alimony, they assume that means that one spouse will be paying spousal support to the other forever. However, often what it means is that the court will retain authority to consider alimony indefinitely. The court may set alimony for a fixed term, but it retains jurisdiction to revise that term—either to extend it or shorten it.

In addition, a court can terminate alimony when one of the following situations occurs:

  • The spouse receiving support remarries or cohabits with a new partner
  • The spouse paying support reaches age 65 (or more) and retires
  • The paying spouse can no longer meet payment obligations dues to no fault of their own
  • The spouse receiving support has achieved the ability to become self-supporting
  • Either spouse passes away

In addition, spouses can establish their own agreement for alimony, and if they agree that obligations will end at a certain point, either due to time or circumstance, then when they reach that point, alimony obligations should terminate.

An Experienced Divorce Attorney Can Help You Achieve the Right Alimony Arrangements

Whether you are negotiating your own terms in a separation agreement or relying on the court to make the determinations, advice and advocacy from an experienced attorney can make a world of difference in the outcome. At Holstrom, Block & Parke, APLC, our Certified Family Law Specialists and associates understand how to make the most of the factors that weigh in your favor when it comes to alimony determinations and all factors associated with divorce. We invite you to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss the ways we can help you emerge from your divorce poised for the best future ahead.

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