California Divorce Laws and the 10 Year Rule

By Christine Funk, J.D.

California Divorce Laws and the 10 Year Rule

By Christine Funk, J.D.

One of the most commonly misunderstood California divorce laws is the 10-year rule. Many people believe that once a marriage passes that 10-year mark, there are extensive financial benefits to a divorcing spouse who makes less than their partner. This is not, however, true.

People arguing at a table and on the table sits a gavel and wedding bands

The Difference Between a Nine-and-a-Half-Year Marriage and a 10-Year Marriage in California

As a general rule, a nine-and-a-half-year marriage is not considered a marriage of long duration in the state of California. However, the courts may declare it a marriage of long duration if they so choose.

On the other hand, a 10-year marriage is, by law, considered a marriage of long duration. But what impact does that have on the divorce proceedings of California residents? There are two parts of a divorce case that are impacted by a marriage that is designated a marriage of long duration.

Courts Retain Jurisdiction in Divorces Stemming from Marriages of Long Duration

First, in marriages of long duration, the court retains jurisdiction over the parties going forward. In other words, if the court makes a ruling regarding alimony, child support, or child custody, and there is a change in circumstances that merits requesting a modification of the divorce decree, the same judge that originally heard the matter will hear the matter again. A judge may award alimony even after the divorce is final, depending on the facts and circumstances of the case.

In a nine-and-a-half-year marriage, the court does not retain jurisdiction over the parties.

A Party May Be Entitled to More Alimony in Divorces Stemming from Marriages of Long Duration

In a less than 10-year marriage in California, the general standard for the appropriate length of time for alimony is one half of the length of the marriage. So generally speaking, a person divorcing after nine-and-a-half years of marriage is presumed entitled to four years and three months of alimony. However, this is only a general rule. The law specifically states, “Nothing in this section is intended to limit the court's discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time."

When a marriage has lasted 10 years or more, the courts apply a different standard. Imagine the courts award a person from a nine-and-a-half-year marriage alimony for six years. Once the six years have passed, the alimony ceases. However, for a couple married 10 years or more, if the court awards six years of alimony, and then circumstances change, the parties can return to court to request alimony for a longer period of time.

Whether the parties are married nine or 10 years, the courts will consider the same factors, including each party's contribution to the marriage and household, the abilities of each party to support themselves, the ability of a party to attain financial independence in the future, and a host of other factors.

Separation During the Marriage

The length of the parties' marriage is judged as a preliminary matter from the time of the marriage to the date of separation. However, the courts may look at the history of the couple's time together and may consider long separations when calculating the length of the marriage.

For example, if a couple married Jan. 1, 2009, and filed for separation Jan. 1, 2019, but didn't live together between 2014 and 2016, courts may determine this is not a marriage of long duration, thus the court can choose not to retain jurisdiction.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.