Spousal Support After A Ten-year Marriage


Many question obligations resulting from a ten (plus) year marriage, specifically, whether the length of the marriage requires one spouse to pay the other “lifetime spousal support“.

The answer, as it is so often, is maybe.

First, it should be stated that all divorced individuals have an obligation to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time (see Family Code, Section 4320), and the court will monitor the effort of any supported spouse charged with the responsibility to seek and maintain employment.

However, what happens if the marriage is more than ten years, and despite the supported party being in good health, with job skills, has not been out of the work force an excessive period and there is an employer willing to hire, but despite all this the supported party refuses to work; what then?

Simply put, the court will first give the supported party a warning, explain his/her obligation of self-support, then give a time limit to obtain employment, possibly with certain conditions, such as completion of education or reissue of a professional certificate (such as a real estate license).

But when and if the day comes when the court finds the supported party has failed to make a reasonable effort towards self-support, the court will not hesitate to modify spousal support to the sum of $0.

So here’s the difference between a marriage of more than ten years, and one less than ten years.

In a marriage of less than ten years, after a period equal to one-half the length of the marriage has passed, absent compelling circumstances, the court will terminate the obligation of either party to pay spousal support to the other.

So let’s assume the marriage was eight years long, and after two years the supported party’s spousal support is modified to $0 because the court determined there was no reasonable effort by the supported party to obtain employment. Thereafter, at half the length of the marriage (four years), support will terminate.

Now assume the same facts, but the marriage is twelve years in length. Again, if the supported party fails to make a reasonable effort towards self support, the court may modify spousal support to $0, but in the case of this “long-term” marriage (over ten years in length), the court will RESERVE THE ISSUE OF SUPPORT, meaning that if in the future either party demonstrates need (not otherwise offset by failure to make a reasonable effort towards self-support), the court has continuing jurisdiction to award support.

Every case is different and support is awarded upon the facts of each case, but there is no reason why a court cannot award lifetime support after a one-year marriage (such as after a catastrophic illness or an accident), or that the court MUST award lifetime support after a marriage of ten plus years.

It all depends on the facts.

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