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California Spousal Support: The Ten Year Rule is a Myth

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Many California couples considering divorce fear what they call the “ten-year rule.” A common misunderstanding is that when a couple married longer than ten years seeks a divorce, there is a rule in place that requires alimony on an indefinite basis, but there is no such rule. The reference is to Family Code Section 4336(a) which says that when a marriage is of “long duration” the court “retains jurisdiction” indefinitely after the divorce is final unless the parties come to a different agreement.

The fact that the court (in most marriages of long duration) retains jurisdiction doesn’t necessarily mean that alimony is paid indefinitely, but that the court has the power to continue to make decisions regarding the case. These decisions could be in reference to the court’s previous orders, any changes or modifications when they are justified by the facts of the case, etc. The ten-year reference comes from the court’s interpretation of any marriage longer than ten years to be automatically deemed “of long duration” for purposes of California law. In some cases, marriages that last less than ten years can also be considered “of long duration” by the court. 

Example #1: Marcy and Tim were married for six years, and the court could order Tim to pay Marcy spousal support totaling $500 per month for three years. The order specifically ends the court’s jurisdiction over the matter at the end of the three years. If Marcy lost her job or became disabled during the three years following the divorce, the court could potentially increase the amount of spousal support she received from Tim. Once the three years pass, the court could not increase the amount of the alimony as they would no longer have jurisdiction to award spousal support in the case.

Example #2: Celia and Josh were married for twelve years. The court ordered Josh to pay Celia $500 spousal support per month for six years. The marriage of 12 years is considered of “long duration” and the court retains jurisdiction to modify the spousal support amount indefinitely (or until Jill passes away or remarries). If Jill lost her job or became disabled, she could request an extension of her spousal support payments or an increase in the amount of the spousal support payment. The court weighs numerous factors when making decisions regarding spousal support.

If you are concerned about how the court determines the amount or duration of alimony in California, please get in touch with one of the experienced California divorce attorneys at The Maggio Law Firm as soon as possible.

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