When two persons are divorced, the Court will often order spousal support to be paid by the higher-income party to the lower-income party. Spousal support comes in two flavors: there is temporary or “pendente lite” spousal support, which is intended to help the lower-income party maintain the marital standard of living during the divorce proceedings; then there is “permanent” spousal support, which purpose is to allow the lower-income party to maintain the marital standard of living while transitioning to a self-supporting position.

For both types of support, there is a contemplated end. For temporary support, the end is the trial or entry of judgment. For permanent support, in marriages that lasted less than 10 years (from marriage to separation), the end comes after a “reasonable amount of time” has passed for the supported party to transition to a self-supporting situation; the general rule is that this reasonable amount of time is “half the length of the marriage” (California Family Code §4320(k)), though the Court has the discretion to make this period longer or shorter.

In the case of “long duration” marriages (10 years are more, per CFC §4336), there is no set “reasonable amount of time.” Often, this is interpreted to mean that, in a long duration marriage, spousal support should last forever and be truly “permanent.” This ignores the point of spousal support, which is to help a party become self-supporting. The reason why the “half the length of the marriage” rule doesn’t apply for long duration marriages is because this often creates a period of support that is too long.

Consider this: In a case where the parties are not nearing retirement age and both are employed and employable, it will almost certainly take less than half the length of a long-term marriage for a diligent party to become self-supporting. Sometimes, a party might be awarded enough property in the divorce to sustain him/her indefinitely (or at least through the “reasonable amount of time” necessary to transition to self-support). Thus, it often makes sense for there to be no permanent spousal support ordered in a long duration marriage.

So don’t take it on faith that a long duration marriage guarantees you a lifetime of support (if you are expecting to be supported) or obliges you to give payments to your ex in perpetuity (if you are expecting to be a supporter). The spousal support order must fit the case; this is why the Court has the authority to exercise a wide discretion when making permanent spousal support orders.

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