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How The Length of Your Marriage May Affect Your Divorce in California

Divorces and legal separations are difficult for everyone involved. The idea of transitioning to a new life is usually unimaginable when you’re ending a long-term marriage. The process often creates lifestyle changes and financial inequities between the two new households. These changes can be particularly devastating if one spouse stayed home to care for the family while the other built a career.

California Family Codes consider the length of a marriage when ruling on divorces and separations. They provide solutions that anticipate how a divorce may leave one spouse with an unstable financial future. The court’s overall goal is to ensure that both spouses maintain the standard of living they were used to doing the marriage. When long-term marriages dissolve, the solutions must meet a number of inherent challenges.

A Certified Specialist in Family Law

Attorney Steven M. Bishop understands how the length of your marriage influences spousal support payments and other key legal outcomes. As a Certified Specialist in Family Law, Attorney Bishop helps clients work through these and other difficult issues. He has assisted numerous couples in establishing agreements and working out complex details. He has helped his clients resolve their differences, both inside and outside the courtroom.

Marriages of “Long Duration”

California Family Court “…retains jurisdiction indefinitely…” when it considers a marriage one of long duration. This usually involves unions lasting 10 years or more. Unless divorcing or separating spouses agree to the contrary, the court has the discretion to issue a spousal support order based on perceived need. When ruling on a marriage of long duration, they also have the right to leave the order open-ended.  Final orders don’t necessarily include a termination date. The court retains the authority to reassess and reevaluate all spousal support and community property issues in the future.

Other than a few exceptions, all assets and liabilities go into a community estate. The court uses its discretion when dividing the estate between spouses. When spouses are exiting a marriage of long duration, the court’s extended jurisdiction grants indefinite discretion to reassess or reevaluate any decision. Either spouse may appeal a decision or seek a modification.

Duration-Related Spousal Support Factors

California Family Codes address many of the spousal support factors that arise when a long-term marriage ends. §4320 (f)simply names “The duration of the marriage” as a factor. This brief mention is just one of the items under “Factors to be Considered in Ordering Support.” Several of the described issues and circumstances demonstrate the court’s need for wide discretion when ruling on a long-term marriage.

Earning Capacity

In awarding spousal support the court evaluates each spouse’s ability to earn enough to maintain their previous living standard. The process considers their education, training, and skills in light of the existing job market. One important factor it considers is the effect of a spouse’s devotion to “domestic duties.” When spouses remain unemployed or underemployed for long periods, they often must retrain to re-enter the job market. Depending on the spouse’s age, the available jobs won’t necessarily provide a substantial enough income.

When a young parent stays at home instead of working, it establishes an early financial gap between spouses. If they continue the roles over an extended period or a lifetime, the gap rarely closes. Typically, it becomes a problem if the couple divorces or separates.

A Pew Research Center study of stay-at-home parents shows that the stay-at-home spouse scenario is fairly common. Their most recent study determined that 7% of male parents in the U.S. and 27% of female parents stay home to take care of their children. Some spouses remain in the home to care for aging parents.

Whatever the reason for exiting the job market, long bouts of voluntary unemployment or underemployment often affect future employability. As AARP’s  Working at 50+ page explains, there are plenty of jobs for people aged 50 and over, but they often require additional training. Over time, stay-at-home spouses age-out of consideration for their preferred careers. If they’re degreed or trained for a specific profession, they often lose accreditation for which they previously trained.

Contribution to Spouse’s Career

When one spouse excels, it’s sometimes because the other spouse sacrificed their money, their emotional well-being, and their own careers. That sacrifice often comes as financial contributions to a college education or sole responsibility for household duties. Some spouses simply fall into a routine of caring for children alone while the other spouse builds a career. A spouse’s financial and emotional support help elevate a family’s lifestyle. When these arrangements continue over time, they often leave a spouse unqualified to re-enter the job market.

Standard of Living

The court assesses a spouse’s need for support based on their established standard of living. This often becomes an issue during a long term marriage. Spouses work together for years building their net worth. Often the standard improves because one spouse performs all the domestic duties while the other earns the income. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement if spouses stay married. When they separate or dissolve their marriage, one spouse often bears the burden of an unexpected lifestyle change.

Age and Health

Age and health often become dual considerations when a couple has remained married for a long time. As couples age, they often deal with multiple illnesses and medical conditions. Because of age-related physical and immune system issues, older people are less able to recover from an illness. They are more likely to require long-term care.

Contact The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop

If you’re considering a divorce from a long-term spouse, contact Attorney Steven M. Bishop for comprehensive legal assistance and compassionate advice. Attorney Bishop recognizes that no divorce is easy or simple, so he works closely with clients to provide the help they need.

To schedule a consultation, call our office at (619) 299-9780 or complete our Contact Form.

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Discuss Your Case With An Experienced Family Law Specialist

To talk to our lawyer about your family law issue in a free telephone consultation, please call our office at 619-299-9780. You may also send us an email. We represent people throughout San Diego County in a host of different family law matters.

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The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation


591 Camino De La Reina, Suite 700

San Diego, CA 92108

Phone: 619-299-9780

Fax: 619-299-0316

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