Does Length of Marriage Affect Divorce Settlement?

Does Length of Marriage Affect Divorce Settlement?

Yes, the duration of marriage does have an impact on divorce settlement – primarily on common marital property distribution and alimony.

Note: Common marital property includes real estate, income from all sources, and other assets acquired, as well as debts accumulated, by the couple during their marriage but before separation. The assets include businesses owned by the family, stock options, retirement funds, intangible assets like goodwill or patents, and more.

The following primer will help you understand how the length of marriage impacts marital property distribution.

How Courts Categorize the Length of Marriage

An analysis of past judgments by our firm suggests that the courts break down the length of marriages into four categories:

Very short-term marriages: Marriages that last no more than 2 years.

Short-term marriages: Marriages that last less than 10 years.

Medium-term marriages: Marriages that last more than 10 but less than 20 years

Long-term marriages: Marriages that last more than 20 years.

Aside from considering the marriage duration, the courts study the circumstances that led to the divorce and reconcile them with the state’s property distribution laws. The two laws that govern property distribution in a divorce are community property distribution laws and equitable property distribution laws, depending on your state. States that follow community property distribution laws generally distribute marital assets on a 50/50 basis, while states that follow equitable property distribution laws divide marital property on a fair and equitable basis, again, usually 50/50.

How Marriage Duration Affects Property Distribution

Very Short-term Marriages

In a very short-term marriage, the spouses do not have enough time to acquire common marital property. Although courts distribute property according to state laws, they also take into account any marital misconduct, other reasons that led to the early breakup of the marriage, and the economic condition of the spouse who gets the custody of the minor child before dividing property. The spouse who is at fault may be given a lesser share, or no share, of the common marital property. If no property has been acquired, then the courts will rule that the spouses are entitled only to their separate property (i.e., property owned by either spouse before marriage and not mingled with common marital property).

Short-term Marriages

In a short-term marriage, the spouses do get time to acquire assets or accumulate debts. Before distributing the marital property according to the state’s laws, the courts may check whether marital misconduct on the part of one spouse led to the divorce. Also taken into consideration are the income and wealth of the parent having the child custody, and other factors depending upon the circumstances of the case. If both spouses are employed, the courts may order an equal distribution. If a spouse has committed marital wrongdoing, he/she may be given a lesser share, and so on.

Medium-term and Long-term Marriages

In marriages that last 10–20 years or longer, the spouses get enough time together to accumulate properties as well as debts. In such marriages, the courts divide property usually on a 50/50 basis, and that holds even in states that follow the equitable property distribution law. If one spouse commits a serious marital offense, the courts may penalize him/her by awarding a higher share of the property to the other spouse, but don’t count on that.

Most spouses file for a no-fault divorce these days because it is simpler and quicker to resolve than an at-fault divorce. However, if a spouse files for an at-fault divorce in a state that allows it, and proves the allegations in court, then he/she may get a higher share of the common marital property.

To sum up this section, the length of the marriage helps the courts in correctly and justifiably distributing common marital property between the spouses.

How Marriage Duration Affects Alimony (Spousal Support)

Many folks feel that the length of marriage impacts the alimony award. Sure it does, but only to some extent, because the alimony awarded depends on a host of other factors too, such as:

  • Financial condition and income-earning capacity of the recipient
  • Employment details of the recipient
  • Intangible contribution of the recipient to the marriage
  • Economic status of the payer
  • Impact of child support on the payer’s income
  • Marital misconduct

So, the marriage duration is just one of the factors taken into account while calculating alimony. It may or may not have a significant impact on the alimony awarded.

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About the Author: Marco Brown
Marco C. Brown was named Utah’s Outstanding Family Law Lawyer of the Year in 2015. He graduated with distinction from the University of Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and is currently the managing partner of Brown Family Law, LLC.
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