A husband tiredly kneads the bridge of his nose as his wife stands to confront him during divorce.

California’s 10-Year Marriage Rule: Fact or Fiction?

What Is the 10-Year Marriage Rule in California?

When it comes to navigating divorce proceedings in California, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every couple brings unique and dynamic qualities to the table, making it all the more important for spouses to familiarize themselves with the divorce process after choosing to dissolve their marriage.

While no two divorces are exactly alike, the duration of a marriage generally plays a key role in the divorce proceedings. What is the 10-year marriage rule in California and how can it affect divorce and spousal support? Keep reading to learn more.

California’s 10-Year Marriage Rule: Fact or Fiction?

While California law does impact long-term marriages differently than shorter marriages during a divorce, the “10-year rule” in the Golden State isn’t what many perceive it to be.

Contrary to popular belief, the 10-year rule regarding permanent spousal support is a myth. It does not mean that spousal support will continue on an indefinite basis for couples married 10 years or more. However, state laws can affect marriages lasting 10 years or more differently than marital unions with shorter durations.

How Can Marriage Duration Impact a California Divorce?

Although the 10-year marriage rule is a myth, the 10-year minimum nevertheless holds some weight in California divorces. While divorcing a spouse of 10 or more years doesn’t automatically result in permanent spousal support, dissolving a marriage that endured for a decade or more permits judges to retain decision-making authority.

What does this mean? Put simply, California Family Code § 4336 states that “the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties where the marriage is of long duration.” It’s worth noting that exceptions can apply if there is a written agreement of the parties to the contrary or a court order terminating spousal support.

Keep in mind that the duration of the marriage can play a vital role in any divorce regardless of length. Marital duration can impact various aspects of divorce, including:

  • Spousal Support – In California, the length of the marriage may influence whether a spouse is eligible for temporary or permanent spousal support (alimony). For marriages of less than 10 years, support is typically granted for half the length of the marriage. But for marriages of 10 years or more, they are often considered "lengthy" or "long-term" and the court may not set a definite termination date for spousal support. (However, this does not mean that a spousal support termination date cannot be established at some point in the future.)
  • Property Division – California is a community property state, meaning that assets and debts acquired during the marriage are generally split equally between spouses. However, the length of the marriage can sometimes affect how property is divided, especially when it comes to certain types of assets like retirement benefits or if one spouse significantly increased their earning potential during the marriage.
  • Child Custody – While the length of the marriage itself may not directly affect child custody decisions, the stability and consistency of the child's environment is a consideration. If a short-term marriage involves young children, courts will aim to disrupt the child's life as little as possible.
  • Legal Fees – In some cases, the length of the marriage can affect the court's decision to order one party to pay the other’s attorney fees. This is more likely in longer marriages where one spouse may have been out of the workforce for a significant period of time.

Defining “Lengthy” Marriages under California Law

While California defines “long-term marriages” as those enduring 10 years or longer as a general rule, it’s important to understand that family courts reserve the right to classify shorter marriages as long-term as well.

This is codified in Family Code § 4336(b)(c), which states that “for the purpose of retaining jurisdiction, there is a presumption affecting the burden of producing evidence that a marriage of 10 years or more, from the date of marriage to the date of separation, is a marriage of long duration. However, the court may consider periods of separation during the marriage in determining whether the marriage is in fact of long duration. Nothing in this subdivision precludes a court from determining that a marriage of less than 10 years is a marriage of long duration.”

Can Spousal Support Be Permanent After Lengthy Marriages?

Yes—but not always. The right of family courts to “retain jurisdiction” after the dissolution of lengthy marriages means that post-divorce decisions are left up to the judge’s discretion. In other words, the court has the right to order permanent spousal support (or not) or issue modifications to such orders if legal circumstances permit them.

Compassionate Advocacy in Life’s Toughest Seasons

Our award-winning attorneys at Family Law San Diego have extensive experience representing families in a wide range of family matters, from child custody disputes to spousal support. With over 200 years of combined experience, you can count on our firm to prioritize your needs and act in your best interests through every step of the legal process. You can count on our dedicated divorce attorneys for both skilled litigation and compassionate advocacy depending on the unique circumstances of your case.

Whether you’re gearing up for a divorce or preparing to file a restraining order to protect against domestic violence, our board-certified family law specialists have a longstanding reputation for providing customized legal solutions to San Diego families from many diverse walks of life, from military divorces to high net worth divorces. Don’t wait to secure the superior representation you deserve in family court.

Preparing for a divorce in San Diego? Our trusted family lawyers can guide your steps wisely in court. Call (619) 577-4900 to schedule a consultation.