On February 6, 2013, John and Ann Betar celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary, a milestone earning them the title of “longest married couple” in the United States by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a Christian marriage group in San Bernardino, California.
Duration of marriage is a topic that frequently arises in a marital dissolution action. In California, a couple does not have to wait 80 years to receive this distinction. Under Family Code section 4336, a long-term marriage is defined as 10 years or longer (from date of marriage until date of separation).
Why does this distinction matter? In terms of spousal support, it is significant. Set forth as a factor under Family Code section 4320(j), the length of a parties’ marriage is evaluated in whether spousal support should be ordered. It is also considered in terms of how much spousal support the supported party should receive and how long support should last.
Perhaps most significantly, the length of the marriage dictates how long the court retains jurisdiction to extend support into the future. For example, if a marriage lasts 10 years or longer, the court retains jurisdiction to award support indefinitely. There are only two ways to divest the court of this jurisdiction: 1) a written agreement between the parties, or 2) a court order terminating support. In contrast, marriages that last less than 10 years are considered short-term marriages. The rule of thumb in short-term marriages is that spousal support lasts roughly half the length of the marriage and is then terminated.
The financial impact of this rule can be notable. As a result, the approach of the 10-year mark is often decision time for spouses in troubled marriages. Tom Cruise was villainized, in the media, as a jerk for famously splitting from his second wife, Nicole Kidman, in the days leading up to their 10-year anniversary, arguably cutting off her right to indefinite spousal support. In contrast, Vanessa Bryant was praised as savvy for waiting until after the 10-year mark to split from her husband, basketball star Kobe Bryant (although reports now say they have reconciled).
Timing is critical in any big life decision, and divorce or separation is no exception. Congratulations to the Betars, who, in this case, have an undisputed long-term marriage (times eight)!
Michele Corvi is an attorney with McManis Faulkner whose practice focuses on all aspects of family law, including child custody and visitation, move-aways, domestic violence, child support, spousal support, valuation of property, and division of assets. For more information, please visit mcmanislaw.com.