When you spend years or decades married to someone, your relationship shapes your entire life. You and your spouse will likely make compromises for each other, work together to build a household, and raise children. Even if a long-term marriage comes to an end, it still shaped the course of your life for many years.
That’s why family courts treat the end of long-term marriages differently from shorter ones. Florida courts understand that the longer a marriage continues, the greater the changes caused by its end. As such, they often structure divorce decrees differently depending on their length. If you’ve been married for many years but want to file for a divorce, it’s in your best interest to understand how your split may be treated differently in court.
What Constitutes a Long-Term Marriage?
Florida courts divide marriages into three categories:
- Short-term marriages, which last fewer than seven years
- Moderate-term marriages, which last between seven and 17 years
- Long-term marriages, which last longer than 17 years
Each of these categories generates different considerations when a couple chooses to get divorced.
A divorce aims to separate a couple’s finances and legal obligations while harming both spouses as little as possible. For short-term marriages, this is relatively simple: the couple’s minimal joint assets are divided, alimony may be awarded for a limited period, and the pair can go on their separate ways.
However, moderate-term and long-term marriages are different. While almost every marriage involves building a life together, couples married for more than a few years have typically arranged their lives around each other. They have accrued more assets, they may have had children, and one or both partners have likely given up opportunities to support their household. As such, the courts treat them differently.
Why a Marriage’s Length Impacts the Divorce Process
It’s generally assumed that couples who have only been married a few years have not entangled their lives and finances as thoroughly as those married longer. If you’re ending your moderate or long marriage, here are some of the ways your divorce may be more complex than if you’d ended things sooner.
On the simplest level, couples who have been married longer have had more time to accrue shared assets. Florida is an equitable division state, which means that property, funds, and debts acquired by either partner are considered joint property until and unless the couple divorces. Furthermore, separate assets owned by each partner before they got married can become “commingled” and subject to division if they are used to support the household.
The longer the marriage, the more assets a couple has acquired, and the more likely it is that separate assets are commingled. As such, dividing assets becomes significantly more complex in longer marriages.
Many people choose to wait a few years after getting married to begin having kids. As such, short-term relationships are less likely to involve the demands of crafting a parenting plan or determining child custody. In contrast, longer marriages are more likely to include children, custody, support, and all this entails.
In addition, long marriages often involve estate plans to ensure that a couple’s children receive an inheritance without lengthy probate processes. Once the pair divorces, it’s necessary for each person to create entirely new estate plans to account for their new financial and relationship statuses.
One of the most critical differences between short- and moderate- or long-term marriages is how courts award spousal support or alimony. Florida offers several forms of spousal maintenance orders, including:
- Temporary: An order that only lasts until the divorce is finalized to support the lower-income spouse until the assets are divided.
- Bridge-the-gap: A short-term order that lasts two years or less to help the recipient readjust to single life and addresses short-term, identifiable needs.
- Rehabilitative: Short-term orders that support the recipient in developing or redeveloping skills to build a career and support themselves. These are accompanied by specific rehabilitative plans, and the payments end when the program is complete.
- Durational: Orders of moderate length to support the recipient but without a specific purpose. These orders may not last longer than the marriage’s duration.
- Permanent: Orders with no end date, usually lasting until the death or remarriage of the recipient or payer.
Short-term marriages are usually only eligible for temporary, bridge-the-gap, and occasionally durational spousal support. These relationships are considered too short for rehabilitative or permanent alimony to be necessary or appropriate.
In contrast, moderate- and long-term marriages may be eligible for all five types of support. Moderate-term relationships may be more likely to see rehabilitative alimony since spouses are likely still young enough to return to the workforce. Meanwhile, long marriages are significantly more likely to involve permanent alimony, since the couple spent most of their adult lives together.
After a couple has been together for years or more, they have likely begun planning for retirement. This means that joint retirement funds must be accounted for during their split. Spouses may also need to change their plans for retirement when they are no longer retiring together and may no longer have a shared home to rely on.
Contact The Hache Law Firm P.A.
At The Hache Law Firm P.A., our skilled attorneys understand the many complexities of ending long-lasting marriages. We have years of experience guiding clients through the process of divorcing long-term spouses while protecting their financial interests. Our holistic approach to family law ensures we can help you achieve the best possible outcome from your split without unnecessary stress or delay. Learn more about how our Florida divorce attorneys can help you by scheduling your consultation today.