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Length of Marriage & Its Effects on Spousal Support

There are countless factors that affect the length of time spousal support is to be paid.  However. the length of a marriage is the most important factor when determining the length of time one party will pay or receive spousal support from the other.  In the case of a short term marriage, defined as a marriage which lasted less than 10 years, the rule is that the Court will generally order spousal support to be paid for half of the length of the marriage.  For example, if a couple was married for 9 years, the court would likely order the larger wage earner to pay spousal support for about 4 ½ years.


On the other hand, for a long term marriage, which is defined as a marriage which lasted 10 years or more, absent an agreement between the parties, the court in California does not have the authority to set an end date to spousal support.  This does not mean that spousal support will be paid forever, it simply means that spousal support will be paid for an “indefinite” period of time.


The obvious question then is, if the length of time is “indefinite”, when will the obligation to pay spousal support ever end.  And better yet, how does one go about terminating the obligation to pay spousal support after it has been ordered?  The simple answer is that one party, most often the payor of spousal support, will have to file new paperwork with the court at some future date and ask the court to reduce or terminate the spousal support orders.  The appropriate time to bring such a request is very complicated and must be determined after analyzing all of these factors at the time of the future request.  If you are reading this Blog post because you are thinking about bring a motion to reduce or terminate a spousal support order, you will want professional legal assistance from a practicing Family Law Attorney before making the decision to file a motion to reduce or terminate spousal support.  It is not uncommon for ill-informed, or worse, uninformed parties to bring this type of motion, only to have their support obligation INCREASED.


In order to analyze the “length of marriage” factor, you must first know the definition of “length of marriage”.  It may seem obvious, but it is not.  When determining spousal support, the length of marriage is that time from the date of the actual marriage, until the “date of separation”.


Length of Marriage Defined:


The “length of the marriage” does not have as much as effect on the amount of spousal support one will receive, but it will have a profound effect on the length of time spousal support will be paid, or received.  The length of marriage is a preliminary factor that must be determined.  Preliminarily, the “Length of Marriage” is the length of time beginning at the Date of the actual marriage and goes until the “Date of Separation.”  The “date of separation” can be a relatively complex factor in itself.  The “Date of Separation” is defined as 1) That date that one party expressed to the other that the marriage was over, that 2) They did not intend to get back together or continue living as spouses, and 3) The parties did NOT get back to together as “spouses” after that date.  The parties may continue to live in the same home, and even sleep in the same bed, however, these factors obviously complicate the argument that the parties are “not living as spouses”.  Clearly, the party arguing the parties have been “separated”, would prefer facts such as one party moved out of the home, or at very least, into a spare bedroom in the residence, that they opened separate bank accounts and completely separated their finances; opened separate credit accounts, did not share expenses, never had sexual relations again, that the parties never had family dinners together again, never vacationed together again, did not attend parties together, and any other factors that would argue in the favor of two people that have fully separated their lives.  Now, it may be occurring to you how tenuous this argument of “Date of Separation” can be.  It can.  In fact, because the date of separation has such a profound effect on the length of time one spouse will pay spousal support to the other, it is relatively common to have a separate “mini-trial” on the issue of the “date of separation” alone.




In one particular divorce case we had in our office, for the purpose of extending spousal support as long as possible, our client (the wife) wanted the length of marriage to be as long as possible, the opposing party (husband) wanted the opposite.  He wanted the date of separation to be much earlier.  Specifically, the opposing party argued that the parties had separated over 22 years prior, and only approximately 8 years after the parties were married.  He argued that they were only married for 8 years when the parties began to argue more and more, and our client moved out of the family home which was located in the hills of Fullerton, California and moved into a newly purchased condominium in Irvine, California.  However, we successfully argued the parties NEVER really separated until the husband actually filed for divorce; by making the following arguments:

  • Even after our client moved out of the family home, the parties maintained the family bank account;
  • Husband


Continued to fund that account for the purposes of finically supporting 100% of our client’s needs and expenses.  Further, we argued that the parties regularly ate meals together, along with their children, and attended parties together, even in the family home, and we successfully argued that parties were still together as husband and wife because they went on several vacations together across the years.  Lastly, we successfully argued that the husband never communicated a clear understanding to our client that he intended to end the marital relationship until he filed for divorce more than 22 years after our client moved out of the family residence.


SOME REASONS DOS is so important

  • Income
  • Bonuses
  • Retirement accounts
  • Investments
  • Interest on accounts
  • Real Estate factors


After the length of marriage is determined, it is important to understand the following important rule.  In California, if the length of your marriage is less than 10 years, your marriage is described in the law a being a “Short-term” marriage.  Generally speaking, and it is NOT always the case, the duration of payment of spousal support will be half the length of the marriage.  However, if your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, your marriage is known in the law as a “Long-term” marriage.  When determining spousal support in long-term marriages, the law provides that a Judge shall not set a “termination” date on payment of spousal support.  That does not mean that spousal support will be paid forever, it simply means that a judge will not set the termination date at the time he or she sets the spousal support award.  If you have more questions on this particular issue, feel free to call our offices for a more complete explanation taking into consideration your specific circumstances.  We always provide free initial consultations.


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