Spousal Support in California: Does California Guarantee Alimony for Life After Ten Years of Marriage?
June 18, 2021|
By: Swetha Gopalakrishnan and Payal Chhabria
There is a common misconception that when a California couple divorces after more than ten years of marriage, one party will be guaranteed alimony for life under the “Ten Year Rule.” This rule does not exist in California. Specifically, California courts consider marriages of at least ten years to be of long duration. Judges may revisit alimony rulings indefinitely for marriages of long duration.
REEVALUATING ALIMONY ORDERS IN CALIFORNIA
For marriages that last fewer than ten years, California courts commonly set the duration of spousal support at half the length of the marriage. Spouses can request the court to review the amount or duration of alimony while the order is active. Once the alimony order is complete for short marriages, courts no longer have the jurisdiction to revisit them.
However, “long duration” marriages are treated differently. If either spouse requests a change, California courts can review and modify these alimony orders indefinitely, or at least until the supported spouse remarries or dies.  The only exception to this is if both spouses agree to make the alimony order “non-modifiable.” Marriages of ten years or more are long duration, although shorter marriages can be considered lengthy as well. California courts will modify alimony orders only if new facts justify a change. There is no “Ten Year Rule” that entitles the supported spouse to alimony for life.
Either spouse can request a change to the amount or duration of alimony while California courts still have jurisdiction over their case. If both parties agree to the change in alimony, they can enter a written contract that the court can turn into an official court order. Otherwise, if the spouses do not agree, one party can file a motion with the court to change the alimony order. The filing party must show a “material change of circumstances” since the original support order. For example, if the supporting spouse’s income has decreased through no fault of their own, a judge may reduce the amount of support provided.
HOW ALIMONY IS DETERMINED FOR LONG MARRIAGES IN CALIFORNIA
Motions to dismiss assert that the plaintiff’s claim is irrelevant or invalid, but usually not based on the facts of the complaint. Motions to dismiss are filed for a range of reasons, which may include:
- Statute of limitations expiration: The case does not fall within California’s time limit for filing.
- Lack of subject matter jurisdiction: The court does not have the authority to hear this type of case.
- Lack of personal jurisdiction: The defendant does not have sufficient minimum contacts in the jurisdiction where the lawsuit was filed.
- Improper Venue: A different court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant and should hear the case.
While motions to dismiss can be effective at getting a case dismissed in its early stages, many cases do not have the flaws required.
MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGEMENT
For California marriages that last longer than ten years, the court will likely determine the duration and amount of support to award by weighing factors such as the following:
- The marketable job skills of the supported party, the employment opportunities for those skills, and the cost and expense of additional training to update those skills.
- Reduced earning capacity of the supported party due to periods of unemployment where they performed domestic duties.
- The extent to which the supported party helped the supporting party obtain education, career advancement, training, or a license.
- The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support.
- Each party’s needs based on the standard of living maintained during the marriage.
- Each party’s health and age.
- Each party’s assets and obligations.
- The marriage duration.
- And more.
EXAMPLE OF CALIFORNIA ALIMONY: SHORT MARRIAGE
X and Y were married for eight years. As part of the divorce, the court orders X to pay Y support in the amount of $700 per month for four years, or half the marriage duration. The order also ends the court’s jurisdiction after four years. Now, if Y were to lose their job during the first four years after the divorce, the court could increase Y’s support. But once the four years have passed, the court cannot modify Y’s spousal support because the court no longer has jurisdiction to award spousal support.
EXAMPLE OF CALIFORNIA ALIMONY: LONG MARRIAGE
X and Y were married for 14 years. Y receives $700 per month, this time for seven years. However, because X and Y have been married for more than ten years, their marriage is considered long-term. The court will retain jurisdiction to modify the support amount. Under these circumstances, the court may retain jurisdiction indefinitely, or at least until Y remarries or passes away. For example, if Y gets sick the month before the support is due to end, Y could ask the court to extend the duration of support and even ask for a higher amount of support.
There is no “Ten Year Rule” in California requiring spousal support to last indefinitely for marriages of more than ten years. However, ten years is an important milestone that could affect the court’s ability to revisit the issue of spousal support later.
Divorce is difficult. We can help make it easier for you. For help getting the most favorable alimony, child support, and other divorce outcomes, please contact your trusted Chugh, LLP attorney.
 California Family Code §4336.
 California Family Code Section 4336(a).
 California Family Code Section 4337.
 California Family Code Section 4320.
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