How long will Spousal Support last?

By: David J. Kolmel, Esq.

One of the most fundamental questions that we in family law always face when meeting with a new client is “How much will spousal support be?” which is followed quickly by “How long will spousal support last?”

While the former question is better dealt with in a separate blog post, the answer to “How long will spousal support last?” can be addressed simply, if not conclusively.

California Family Code §4320(l) and §4336 both establish that a marriage lasting more than 10 years is a “marriage of long duration.” For marriages that last less than 10 years, the default duration of spousal support is one-half the length of the marriage. Therefore, a marriage lasting 6 years would generally receive a spousal support award lasting 3 years; a 9-year marriage would usually receive an order for spousal support lasting 4 ½ years. As with any discussion of the law, these are not absolutes, and may be subject to modifying arguments including (but not limited to) evidence of domestic violence in the relationship and the comparative incomes of both spouses.

For a marriage of long duration, any marriage lasting 10 years or more, the duration of spousal support is much more open for argument before the Court. While it can be safely assumed that, absent domestic violence, spousal support after a marriage of long duration won’t be ordered to last less than half the duration of the marriage, the upper limit is less concrete. In decades past, this could have led to lifetime spousal support for the supported party, particularly in situations where the supporting spouse (traditionally the husband back in the 20th Century) made substantially more money than the supported spouse. Thus, a husband could have potentially been looking at paying spousal support for 30 or 40 years or more to his wife of just 11 years.

Times have changed, though. Women’s liberation and the feminist movement, along with other cultural changes, have led society and the Legislature to understand that both spouses are generally perfectly capable of becoming self-supporting after a reasonable period of time. While this has been codified to some degree in California Family Code §4320(g), but the really determinative law in this regard is the decision by the Court of Appeal for the Second District of California, in a case known as In re Marriage of Gavron. The Gavron case led to the statement by the Court that “it is in the best interests of both spouses and of society in general that the supported spouse become self-sufficient.” (In re Marriage of Gavron, (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 705, 711) This statement by the Court has led to a steady move by trial courts away from granting lifetime or “permanent” spousal support.

Instead, trial courts, when considering spousal support in the termination of a marriage of long duration, now place a much higher expectation on the supported spouse to make reasonable, consistent efforts to become self-supporting. Whether that ends up being 7 ½ years or 20 years after a 15-year marriage will depend on a variety of factors ranging from one spouse’s physical disability to his/her education, work history, and financial investments.

Now only is it important to bring all of this relevant information to light before the Court, it needs to be brought forth in the correct format and manner so that the Court is allowed to consider it under the rules of the Evidence Code and the Rules of Court. In order to protect yourself from suffering a spousal support award that lasts too long or not long enough, you need to seek experienced, knowledgeable legal advice from a law firm that specializes in family law. Contact the Law Offices of H. William Edgar today for a free consultation with one of our experienced family law attorneys to find out what you can likely expect when it comes to spousal support in your dissolution of marriage.

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