If you’re in California and either contemplating a divorce or just learning about them just in case, one important distinction to know is whether your marriage is “short-term” or “long-term”. As I’ll explain, it’s not a difficult distinction to keep straight, but it is important to know for at least two reasons: (1) different rules apply depending on which category your case is in, and (2) lawyers and judges will often use the words “short-term” and “long-term” very casually so it’s important to know what they mean.
Simply put, a marriage is “short-term” is generally one that is less than 10 years in duration. Conversely, a marriage is generally “long-term” if it is 10 or more years in duration. See California Family Code section 4336(b). This 10-year mark is not set in stone, though. It is possible for a long-term marriage to be less than 10 years long and for a marriage longer than 10 years long to be considered short-term. As with many things in the law, it all depends on the situation.
There are many areas in which this short versus long distinction is important. The most common one I see is when it comes to determining permanent spousal support under California Family Code section 4320, specifically section 4320(l). If your marriage is short-term, section 4320(l) can place a limit on the duration of permanent spousal support of half the length of the marriage. If your marriage is long-term, then this “half the length” limitation may not apply. As I said earlier, though, there is no way to say for sure whether your marriage is long or short term. The chronological duration is one way, but it is not the only way. The only way to get a specific answer is to find an attorney and discuss your particular situation with them.
Oh, last point. When computing the amount of time, what you’re looking for is the difference between two dates. The first is the date of the marriage and that starts the proverbial clock. This is generally not difficult to ascertain as you just go by the date on the marriage certificate. The proverbial clock stops on the “date of separation”. That can be much harder to define compared to the date of marriage. For guidance on how to determine your date of separation, I’ll refer you to California Family Code section 70.