Is Alimony for Life? California’s Fabled "10-Year Rule"

When it comes to divorce and alimony requirements, it’s often difficult to tell fact from fiction. You’ll receive information and guidance from friends, family, and co-workers—even if you don’t want to hear it. Sometimes this will include legal advice. You might hear statements like, “If you’ve been married for 10 years, you’re guaranteed alimony for life!” or “Once you hit that 10-year mark, you’re going to have to pay your ex for the rest of your life.”

There is but a morsel of truth in these statements. California’s fabled “10-year rule” for spousal support does not apply to every case. It is not cut and dry. Every divorce is considered individually, and alimony will be awarded according to more than just the length of the marriage.

The Origin of the 10-Year Rule

The myths of the “10-year rule” and “alimony for life” originated from California Family Code § 4336(a).

This law specifically discusses the court’s jurisdiction related to spousal support. It states, “Except on written agreement of the parties to the contrary or a court order terminating spousal support, 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.” A marriage is considered “of long duration” if it lasted for 10 or more years.

In simpler terms, the court has the authority to decide when spousal support should be terminated if the marriage in question lasted for at least 10 years.

Spouses can circumvent this rule by reaching their own written agreement regarding alimony. Alimony may also be terminated by the court at a later date based on “a showing of changed circumstances” like remarriage or another significant change.

The reference to 10 years and the court’s authority to decide when to terminate spousal support are the two factors that led to the creation of the “alimony for life” and “10-year rule” concepts. There is some truth in the 10-year rule in that it references marriages that lasted long enough for the court to have authority in terminating spousal support, but it does not guarantee alimony for life.

Spousal Support Is Determined on a Case-by-Case Basis

The court will not automatically award lifetime alimony in a divorce, even if the marriage lasted longer than 10 years. If divorcing or separating spouses are unable to reach their own agreement regarding spousal support, the court will consider a number of factors and then determine the amount of alimony and how long it should be paid. Only in rare cases will it be awarded for life.

The following are just a few of the factors that will influence the duration and amount of alimony in California:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each spouse’s earning capacity
  • The division of property and debt
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • Each spouse’s contributions to the marriage

For more information, see our blog: How Long Can Spousal Support Payments Last in California?

How the 10-Year Rule Affects You

Some view California’s 10-year rule as outdated. Some think that the possibility of permanent alimony will discourage people from getting married in the first place. It is important to acknowledge, however, that long-term alimony will only be awarded in specific circumstances. It is not automatic. It can also be avoided if divorcing spouses choose an alternative method of dispute resolution like mediation or arbitration and reach their own agreement regarding support, property, and custody.

If you are facing divorce, have already divorced and have questions about alimony, or simply want guidance related to a potential divorce or separation, we at the Law Offices of H. William Edgar are here to help. These are complicated matters, and the outcome of your divorce and alimony agreement may impact you for years into the future—or even for life.

Serving Riverside, Temecula, Anaheim, Palm Desert, and the surrounding communities in Southern California, our divorce attorneys understand what’s at stake. We have the know-how to develop effective strategies and the determination to carry them out to the best possible results.

To learn more, call (888) 251-9618. We’re committed to your future.

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