In the state of California, a marriage that is over 10 years is considered to be a long term marriage for purposes of spousal support. What this means for support cases is that a court generally retains jurisdiction over support, indefinitely, unless there’s an agreement or an order that specifically provides otherwise. 


This does not, however, mean that a spouse will receive the maximum amount of support for the rest of their life. 


The courts will look at all the spousal support factors when determining the amount and duration of spousal support awards. In considering the supported spouse’s ability to engage in employment, the court may use step-down orders, which will gradually decrease the amount of support paid over time, taking into account the increased earning capacity of the supported spouse.


For example, if there is a  couple that is married in their 20s and then divorces in their 30s, the court will look at how long it will take the supported party to establish themselves in a career and to become self-supporting from that career. If they had remained married for 30 years and divorced in their 50s, the court may determine that the supported spouse’s ability to engage in employment has been reduced due to the age of the party entering into the workforce. In awarding spousal support, the court must also consider the goal that the supported party must become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time.


Additionally, when making an order, the court may advise the supported spouse that they should make reasonable efforts to assist in providing for their needs. This is known as a Gavron warning. The court will look at the work history during a long term marriage. A spouse that works for nine years of the marriage and is only unemployed for the last year of the marriage, will have a much easier time entering the workforce than a spouse that has never been gainfully employed.


The court might order a payment for a fixed period of time, but require that the supported spouse show good cause why the support should continue beyond that period. This is shifting the burden of proof to the supported spouse. This is commonly known as a Richmond order. It may also contain an order that has an automatic step-down in the amount of support paid over time. 


Even in cases where there has been a long term marriage, the supporting party may request that the court modify support based on a change in circumstances. This change may simply be that the supported spouse has refused to engage in any gainful employment and has failed to take the steps necessary to become self-supporting. 


Spousal support is often a highly litigated issue, as most spouses do not want to continue to support each other for an indefinite amount of time after the marriage is terminated. In cases where spousal support is ordered at the time of judgment, often a spouse will come back in a couple of years or five years later, to seek to modify the amount or eliminate the spousal support altogether.


If you have any questions about long term marriages or spousal support, shoot us over an email or give us a call.