Length of Marriage and Spousal Support in California

When parties are going through a divorce case, one of the first questions many people tend to ask about spousal support relates to what impact the length of the marriage has on the Court’s ability to award spousal support. Some people are married for only a matter of months, while others have been married for decades. That in and of itself can have a large impact on the issue of spousal support. However, it is important to keep in mind that the length of the marriage is just one of many factors that the Court must consider when determining the proper amount of spousal support to be awarded as well as for how long spousal support should be paid. Unlike child support, spousal support is not mandatory and courts have broad discretion in determining whether spousal support will be awarded, and if so, the duration and amount of support to be paid. California differentiates between short-term and long-term marriages. A marriage of 10 years or less, is generally considered a “marriage of short duration” and spousal support is likely only payable for one-half of the duration of the marriage. For a marriage longer than 10 years, the Court views the same as a “marriage of long duration” and spousal support may be awarded for longer than one-half the length of the marriage. However, simply because a marriage was of long duration does not guarantee that a party will be awarded spousal support nor does it guarantee that a party will be awarded spousal support for any particular duration.

Although the length of marriage is important in determining spousal support, the Court must consider a wide range of factors when making a permanent spousal support order. California Family Code §4320 states the specific factors that a Court must consider when determining spousal support. These factors include the standard of living during the marriage, the marketable skills and employability of the supported party, ability to pay, the duration of the marriage, history of domestic violence, the goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time, and any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.

If after weighing all of the Family Code Section 4320 factors the Court determines that it is appropriate to award spousal support, the Court must also decide whether it is appropriate to set a termination date on the support orders. Many people are of the belief that if they are awarded spousal support then those support orders will never end. However, that is not always the case. For so long as the Court has jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support, those orders may be modified and/or terminated, if there is a valid change of circumstance.

Spousal support is a common issue for many of our clients at Mello & Pickering, LLP. We have represented both the paying spouse and the supported spouse in many cases. If you have questions about spousal support, or any other family law topic, call our office for an initial consultation or an in-person appointment at (408) 288-7800.

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