California has a law on the books that defines a marriage of less than ten years as a short-term marriage. By the laws in California, if there is going to be an award of spousal support in a short-term marriage, the presumption is that the duration of that spousal support should not be for more than one-half the length of the marriage. So, if you have a four-year marriage, if there is going to be an award of spousal support, it shouldn’t be for more than two years.
There is not a similar law for marriages that are longer than ten years. That can be a real guessing game for the parties of the divorce case and for their lawyers in trying to settle the issue of spousal support in a long-term marriage. Because all the laws tell us is that it is left up to the discretion of the judge, so whatever the judge thinks is fair is what will stand as a court order.
It’s a guessing game because the primary goal in a divorce is to keep the case out of court. So, when we are negotiating spousal support on a long-term marriage, we are trying to guess at what a judge is going to do when the last thing we want to have happen is for us to have to actually get in front of that judge. It is quite possible in a long-term marriage, a twenty or thirty year marriage as an example, for there to be a life-time spousal support.
John Harding is the principal of the law firm of Harding & Associates in Northern California. He practices family law litigation and divorce mediation exclusively.