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California Divorce 10-Year Rule (2024) – All You Need to Know

By Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP | Aug 17, 2023

California’s 10-year rule in divorce usually refers to how the length of a couple’s marriage impacts the duration of alimony payments. Alimony, or spousal support, is not always awarded in a divorce, but it may be necessary, depending on each spouse’s income, financial assets, and how long they were married. There is a misconception that long-term alimony is only awarded after a couple has been married for at least 10 years. Alimony can be awarded even in short marriages, depending on a couple’s unique financial needs and assets.

What Is Long-Term Spousal Support?

Long-term, or permanent, spousal support is any alimony awarded after the divorce is finalized. This is different from temporary spousal support payments, which are awarded during the process of a divorce if a spouse has a financial need. When the divorce is finalized, these temporary payments end and long-term alimony can begin if it is awarded in the separation agreement.

The purpose of alimony is to provide approximate financial stability to each spouse following the divorce. These payments last until the receiving spouse can reasonably be expected to support themselves.

The 10-Year Rule and Long-Term Alimony

The court will review several factors when determining how much and how long alimony payments will last, including each spouse’s financial needs and stability. One of the biggest factors is the length of the couple’s marriage. The court calculates the length of a couple’s marriage from the date of marriage, and it excludes any periods of separation. Although long-term alimony is often called permanent alimony, it is not always permanent.

  • Short-Duration Marriages
    If a marriage has lasted 10 years or less, the state family court will usually have jurisdiction over alimony payments for half the length of a marriage. If a couple was married for 6 years, the court can assign alimony for 3 years. During this time, the court has the ability to modify the court orders as needed. After those 3 years, the court no longer has jurisdiction to enforce or modify alimony payments.
  • Long-Duration Marriages
    For marriages that have lasted over 10 years, the court may have jurisdiction permanently. This doesn’t mean that the alimony payments themselves will be permanent, but they could be. Rather than having a specified termination date, the court has the ability to modify or terminate the payments indefinitely. Payments may be increased or decreased based on the financial needs or obligations of either party, and they may be terminated by the court when necessary.

Termination of Long-Term Alimony

When the state divorce court has indefinite jurisdiction over alimony payments, there are specific situations that allow for payment termination. This includes:

  • Either party dies.
  • There is a date or terms of termination listed in a separation agreement.
  • The supported spouse remarries.
  • The supported spouse has reached a point when they are considered self-supporting.
  • The paying spouse reaches 65 and retires.
  • The paying spouse is no longer able to pay support due to factors not in their control.

An Orange County, CA, Divorce Lawyer can help you create a separation agreement that addresses your unique needs.

Other Impacts of the 10-Year Rule

There are two other ways that the 10-year rule may impact a divorcing couple. This includes:

  • Social Security Benefits
    If a couple has been married for more than 10 years when they are divorced, an individual who reaches retirement age can receive a portion of Social Security benefits based on their ex-spouse’s earnings, assuming that individual has not remarried.
  • Military Retirement Benefits
    If a couple was married for more than 10 years before a military divorce, this also affects military benefits. An ex-spouse of a military spouse who was on active duty during their marriage is eligible for a direct payment of a portion of their ex-spouse’s retirement benefits. These benefits may also be possible for short-term marriages, but they are not made through direct payment.


Q: Do You Need a Lawyer to Get Divorced in California?

A: Although you’re not required to work with a divorce lawyer, it’s usually in your interests to do so. A divorce attorney can:

  • Prevent common mistakes during filing.
  • Prevent unnecessary costs.
  • Protect your rights during alternative dispute resolutions or in litigation.
  • Advocate for your interests to the judge during litigation.

Working without an attorney can make the process take longer, and it may result in a separation agreement that is not in your interests.

Q: How Much Does It Cost to Get a Divorce Lawyer in California?

A: The cost of a divorce attorney varies extremely based on your unique situation and if your divorce has complex issues, such as high-value assets or a contentious child custody case. The cost may range anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 or even higher. The cost also depends on factors such as:

  • Whether your case is expected to enter litigation or not
  • How experienced the attorney is in divorce law
  • If your case has complex aspects
  • The location of the attorney and firm
  • Whether the attorney charges based on an hourly or flat-fee basis

Always talk with an attorney about their fees prior to hiring them.

Q: What Is the 10-Year Rule in a California Marriage?

A: A marriage’s duration affects the length of time that a divorce court assigns alimony payments for. If a marriage lasts 10 years or less, payments will likely last half the length of time as the marriage. If a marriage lasts longer than 10 years, alimony payments may be indefinite or have no fixed end date. Instead, these payments are terminated when the receiving spouse no longer needs them, as they have become self-supporting.

Q: How Long Does a Divorce Take in California?

A: Every divorce is unique, and so is every divorce’s timeline to be resolved. Divorces may take anywhere from 6 months to several years. If a couple can agree on all aspects of their separation agreement and do so very quickly, the divorce will proceed quickly. The couple only has to wait California’s mandatory waiting period of 6 months before the divorce can be finalized.

A divorce agreement that is negotiated through mediation or a collaborative divorce will also likely be resolved more quickly.

A contested divorce where property division, alimony, and custody must be determined by the court may take more than a year or even several years.

Contact Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP

If you want to know what benefits you should receive based on the length of your marriage, contact our team at Quinn & Dworakowski, LLP. We know how difficult and confusing a divorce can be, and we want to provide legal support throughout your case.

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