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How does California law treat divorces after ten or more years of marriage?

by Steve Fritsch on April 7, 2014

ten year rulesThere are numerous implications of divorce, according to California law, if you’ve been married for ten or more years. Non-lawyers make many assumptions about those laws. Here is a brief discussion of the assumptions people make: Some of them are false and some of them are true.

False Assumptions

  • If you divorce after 10 years of marriage, spousal support must be paid indefinitely.

True Assumptions

  • The court retains jurisdiction.
  • You may be eligible for social security benefits if you do not remarry.

Let’s discuss what each one means for you.

Spousal Support in Perpetuity, If the Divorce Occurs After 10 Years of Marriage

This is a very common misconception about California divorce law. When you choose to divorce after more than 10 years of marriage, there is no automatic rule that the wealthier spouse must forever pay alimony to the less wealthy spouse. Something else does, however, automatically occur if you have been married for ten years…

Court Retention of Jurisdiction

The automatic legal rule, triggered by a divorce after 10 or more years of marriage, is that the court retains jurisdiction. This means that the court can continue to monitor the lives of the spouses. As facts change, the court may modify its original orders. For example: Imagine that Fred and Angela divorce after 14 years of marriage and the court orders Fred to pay Angela $30,000 per year in spousal support, for the next 5 years. Angela falls ill. Because the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely, her lawyer could ask the court to modify the spousal support order.

If Fred and Angela had been married for less than 10 years, the court would not automatically retain jurisdiction and thus could not extend the spousal support order or alter the amount involved after the payments end.

Social Security Benefits

The Social Security Administration treats benefit recipients differently if you were married for 10 years or longer. You may receive benefits on reaching retirement age; it depends on your former spouse’s earnings on reaching retirement age. Consult a qualified attorney for more information. If eligible, you would receive half of the benefits due to your former spouse. This only applies if you choose not to remarry; the benefits are inapplicable if you remarry.

A qualified family lawyer will help you determine the implications of divorce after 10 years of marriage.

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