The length of a marriage is one of several important factors for a court's
consideration in a divorce and is primarily relevant to two aspects of
a marital dissolution:
the division of marital property and spousal support.
Does the Length of My Marriage Affect Property Division?
The length of a marriage can influence two aspects of property division.
First, the duration of the marriage is relevant to the precise
distribution of property between the spouses. Second, long-term marriages often involve more
complex property division questions than shorter marriages.
DISTRIBUTION OF PROPERTY
The length of a marriage will affect how much property is awarded to each
spouse upon divorce. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the
more likely it is that the court will go beyond a simple 50/50 division
of assets and instead award a greater portion of marital property to one
of the spouses.
In a long-term marriage, it is common for one spouse to have relied on
the other spouse's income and earning abilities to support a certain
standard of living that would not be sustainable as a single person. In
such cases, the court will often award the lower earning spouse a higher
percentage of the marital property in order to place him or her in a similar
financial position as the higher earning spouse, and to ensure that both
spouses enjoy relatively comparable standards of living post-divorce.
A marriage duration that falls somewhere in the middle may also involve
disproportionate awards of property when there is historical income disparity
between the spouses.
In a dissolution of a short-term marriage, the court is less likely to
make a disproportionate award of jointly owned property and more likely
to order an equal distribution of jointly owned assets. This is particularly
true in cases where both parties were employed throughout the marriage.
COMPLEX PROPERTY DIVISION ISSUES
A longer-term marriage can present more complex issues for valuation and
division of property. Couples who have been married for a lengthy period
of time generally tend to have more property and more diverse property
holdings or interests. This can include real estate investments, closely
held businesses or professional practices, employee stock options and
grants, and a variety of retirement and investment accounts.
These cases will require an attorney with experience in handling
complex property matters. They also may necessitate the use of an expert such as a business or
real estate appraiser, an actuarial accountant, or a financial planner.
Will the Length of My Marriage Affect Whether I Receive Spousal Support?
The length of a marriage is also an important factor for the court in determining
whether an award of
spousal support (also referred to as maintenance or alimony) is appropriate. As in division
of property, the court will look to historic economic disparity between
the spouses in addition to the length of the marriage in determining the
amount and duration of maintenance.
When a marriage is both lengthy and characterized by economic disparity
between the spouses, the court will more likely than not order the wealthier
spouse to pay spousal support to the lesser earning spouse for a period
of time. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration
of support awarded. In very long term marriages, the court may even award
lifetime support to the historically lower- or non-earning spouse.
Spousal support is also awarded in mid-range marriages, but the award will
be limited in duration. In a short-term marriage, support is much less
likely to be awarded. However, where appropriate, the court may order
temporary spousal maintenance to assist the lesser-earning spouse during
the divorce proceedings or for a short time after the divorce.
It is important to note that the outcome of a case is highly dependent
on the facts of an individual case and the specific financial circumstances
of the parties. An experienced family law attorney can provide you with
the advice and guidance that you need to ensure that your own case has
a successful, equitable result.
For more information on what to expect during a divorce, contact a
McKinley Irvin divorce attorney.