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For about a decade now, Courtney Cox and David Arquette have been one of Hollywood’s happiest yet oddest couplings. That’s why it was big news when Cox and Arquette announced they were separating. Celebrity divorces aren’t uncommon, but what’s interesting is the 10-year mark when many decide to call it quits.
Cox, a super celebrity from her days on Friends and now on Cougar Town, married Arquette in 1999 after the two met on the set filming Scream. While we won’t speculate on why they split, the couple did agree on a trial separation rather than an outright divorce.
The divorce laws in California do kind of force a fight or flight scenario for rocky marriages close to exceeding the 10 year threshold, especially for high-earning spouses with significant income disparity over their partners. Though celebrity splits may get the most publicity, the law also applies to normal residents getting divorced as well.
California Divorce Laws
The divorce laws in the Golden State are a little different than most. Under the California Family Code Section 4336, after a marriage has lasted over 10 years, the courts deem it a “long-term” or “lengthy” marriage. While the 10 year seems to be the barometer, it can vary from case to case.
Divorces of long-term marriages means that the higher earning spouse may be required to pay alimony or spousal support indefinitely. In a marriage that dissolves before 10 years, the higher earning spouse is only required to pay alimony for about half the years the couple was married. So a marriage of eight years would only require alimony for four years.
Spousal support, however, is not to be confused with community property division in which things like your 401(k), investments, savings accounts, house or other possessions can be split up. It also doesn’t affect custody of children. Those aspects of divorce are relatively separate issues in the split.
When Divorce is Economically Viable
Most divorces are expensive and ugly, so it’s not a decision to take lightly. However, if a marriage is approaching the 10-year mark, spouses experiencing marital problems may feel even more pressure to separate because of the economics involved.
Spouses earning less than their partners may want to hold out until after the 10 year period because it is financially more beneficial for them. The opposite is true for the higher earning spouse.
Separating Money from Emotions
When a relationship deteriorates, the break up can be accelerated because of money issues. This can be avoided through several ways. You don’t want to make a sensitive situation even more volatile by calculating the financial advantages and disadvantages unless you have to. Trying to repair or come to terms with your relationship is most likely difficult enough.
There are several ways to avoid the 10-year marriage fork:
- Consider a Prenuptial Agreement: This may actually backfire when bringing this up before the actual marriage, but if terms are already in place, it could help clear up perspective on fixing or ending a relationship.
- Post-Nuptial Agreement: If you missed the opportunity for a prenup, you could always opt for a postnup, which is essentially the same thing but for couples that are already married.
- Divorce Settlement: For marriages that are already on the outs, you could also decide alimony and community property divisions yourself. This takes the power out of the court’s hands and puts it in the people who were actually involved in the marriage. Couples can decide to waive alimony payments or set a fixed period and amount that cannot be modified by the courts.
While discussions about divorce should focus more on affection than economics, it’s definitely important to understand how your state’s laws applies to you. In fact, California isn’t the only state or jurisdiction with the 10-year rule.
Social security and military retirement payments are also available to be collected by former spouses that were married after 10 years.
So whether you live in California or not, it’s important to educate yourself on the intricacies of the divorce laws in your local and state jurisdiction. It may help during times of emotional distress, when a clear mind can make the difference between saving or ending your marriage.