California Spousal Support in Long Term vs. Short Term Marriages

Spousal support (also known as partner support for registered domestic partners) is money that one spouse pays to help support the other after the filing of a dissolution or legal separation. When a married couple divorces after building a lifestyle together, a court may require the higher earner—whether the husband or the wife— to assist the lower earner in maintaining that lifestyle for at least some period of time. A judge may award temporary—or “pendente lite”—support during divorce proceedings, as well as support after a divorce is final.

In ordering spousal support the court will consider the factors under Family Code Section 4320, including but not limited to: the standard of living during the marriage, the length of the marriage, and the age, health, earning capacity and job histories of both individuals. In California the duration of spousal support is based on the length of the marriage. However, California courts require a spouse seeking support to make efforts to become self-supporting, regardless of the length of a marriage.

Marriages of 10 years or more are considered “Long Term” marriages in California and typically the court will not set a definite termination date for spousal support. In addition in long term marriages, the court’s jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support is not terminated unless the parties agree otherwise. This leaves the door open so spousal support can be modified at a later time. Under certain circumstances, either party may go back to court and ask the judge to change the amount of support up or down.

Marriages of less then 10 years are referred to as “Short Term” marriages and typically the court will not order spousal support for more than half the term of the marriage since it is the goal that the supported spouse will be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time—presumed to be one-half the length of a marriage unless the marriage was longer than 10 years.

Absent a written agreement stating otherwise, spousal support terminates on the death of either spouse, or on the remarriage of the recipient. There is a rebuttable presumption that a party who is cohabiting with a new partner has a reduced need for support. Periodic spousal support payments are usually taxable to the recipient and tax-deductible by the payer.