I heard a funny line from the HBO show Entourage recently. It was spoken by the character Ari Gold. He said to his wife something to the effect of "come on honey, we've been married for 10 years and there is no prenup, I'm not going anywhere."
There is actually a lot of truth to that statement. For the higher earner spouse, the length ofthe marriage can have some serious consequences on spousal support. Let's look at California law.
When a court decides the length of time that spousal support (alimony) should be given by one spouse to another, it will look toward the length of the marriage for guidance. Generally, unless the marriage was a marriage of “long duration,” the court will likely order spousal support for about one-half the length of the marriage. For example, in a 5 year marriage, spousal support may be as long as 2 and 1/2 years. One-half the length of the marriage is considered a “reasonable amount of time” for the supported spouse to become self-supporting. This is not a hard and fast rule however. The court still has discretion to order support for a shorter or longer period of time based on other factors and the circumstances of both spouses including job history, education, and ability to work.
If the marriage was a marriage of “long duration,” however, the court may require spousal support for a longer period of time for the supported spouse to become self-supporting. This can be "lifetime" support until the supported spouse becomes remarried or either dies. A marriage generally is a marriage of long duration if it was 10 years or longer, measured from the date of marriage to the date of separation. That "date of separation" issue can get complicated and we have discussed that elsewhere in: http://divorcechat.blogspot.com/2007/08/date-of-separation-what-is-it-why-does.html
The court also has the discretion to consider periods of separation during the marriage in deciding whether the marriage was one of long duration. Spouses sometimes break up, live apart and get back together. The court does consider that when deciding if a marriage is longer than 10 years. The opposite is also true. Just because a marriage was less than 10 years does not mean the court will not consider it of a long duration. The rules are a bit flexible and depend mostly on the circumstances of the two spouses.
I am often asked "what about the time we were together before marriage?" The court generally does not include a period of cohabitation prior to marriage in its determination of the length of marriage. However, the court may include the duration of the parties’ previous marriage to each other. Sometimes, a couple may break up, divorce and then get remarried only to divorce again. If the marriages combined were more than 10 years, the court may consider that when deciding if the marriage is a long term marriage.
To my readers: My name is B. Robert Farzad. I am the president of Farzad Family Law, APC. To contact me with any questions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us toll free at (877) 857-6500.