California “Long-Term” Marriages

Posted February 23, 2012 in Family Law by Lonich and Patton.

Recently, L.A. Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant’s divorce from Vanessa Bryant made national headlines.  There has been speculation and discussion regarding the size of Vanessa’s potential divorce settlement, particularly due to the length of their marriage, which was more than ten years.  See L.A. Times, Kobe Bryant divorce: Prenup could have ‘saved half of his fortune.’  It has been posited that Vanessa purposefully waited until after their ten-year anniversary to ensure spousal support for a lengthy period.  However, while Vanessa will likely receive a significant amount of spousal support (Kobe’s net worth is estimated at $300 million), the focus on her “wisely waiting ten years to divorce” should not necessarily garner the attention it has.

According to California Family Code section 4336, there is a rebuttable presumption that a marriage of ten years or more (from the date of marriage to the date of separation) is a marriage of “long duration” for purposes of retaining spousal jurisdiction which could lead to lengthy support orders or even lifetime support.  This does not mean, however, that shorter marriages will not be considered marriages of “long duration.”  Courts have discretion to determine a marriage to be of “long duration” after evaluating and weighing underlying facts.  So while ten years of marriage may appear to be the magic number, it is not the only way a court will retain spousal support jurisdiction.  It is possible that a trial court could determine Kobe and Vanessa’s marriage was lengthy even if they were married for less than ten years.

The court’s ability to retain spousal support jurisdiction effectively creates an indefinite term support order, meaning spousal support could continue for life.  But because the court retains jurisdiction, it also has jurisdiction to modify or terminate the order upon a showing of “changed circumstances.”  Under Family Code section 4320, a court considers and weighs the various factors (including the duration of the marriage), and a “reasonable period” to become self-supporting, which could be shorter or longer than one-half the length of the marriage.  There may be cases where (because of age, health, etc.) self-support may not be a realistic expectation at all.  Thus, despite their ten-year marriage, a court retains the power to modify any support order following the divorce.

While Kobe and Vanessa’s divorce will likely not play out in the courts, it is likely that Vanessa will see receive a substantial amount of spousal support for an extended duration.  The Certified Family Law Specialists* at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling spousal support issues in marriages of both short and long duration.  If you are contemplating divorce, please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists* at Lonich & Patton, who can provide you with an in depth analysis of your issues.  Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

*Certified Family Law Specialist, The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization

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