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10-Year Rule: What Are You Entitled to After 10 Years of Marriage?

Sophia Merton
November 3, 2022

When you tell your friends and family that you’re getting divorced, you likely receive tons of advice about how to create the best possible post-divorce outcome. One of the things that might come up is the “10-year rule,” which can actually refer to several different concepts.

On the one hand, they might be talking about the fact that you might be entitled to Social Security benefits through your spouse. On the other, they might be referring to laws in specific states (such as California) where there are special alimony laws for marriages that last at least ten years.

It’s important to understand that there is a lot of myth surrounding this latter idea and that laws about spousal maintenance and support vary widely by state.

What Is the 10-Year Rule?

Frequently, when people talk about the 10-year milestone in a marriage in regard to divorce, they are referencing the laws surrounding Social Security.

Social Security Benefits and Divorce After Ten Years of Marriage

If you are divorced after having been married for ten years or more, you are typically able to receive benefits through your ex-spouse if the following are true:

  • You are 62 years of age or older
  • You are unmarried
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to receive Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, and
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive via your work is less than you would receive based on your ex-spouse's work.

This is the case even if your ex-spouse has married another person again.

older woman looking out window with coffee cup thinking about social security benefits from ten years of marriage
You must be unmarried and over 62 years old in order to receive Social Security benefits from your ex-spouse when you're divorcing after ten years of marriage, in addition to a number of other requirements.

The benefits that you are entitled to receive are not negotiated or changed as a part of the divorce proceedings.

All this being said, it’s important to talk with a lawyer in the state that you are getting divorced in, as the ten-year mark can also impact other aspects of your divorce. An attorney that is licensed to practice in your state will be able to give you advice that is specific to your state.

California and the 10-Year Rule

There is also an often-referenced concept of the “10-year rule” in California in particular, but it’s important to understand that there is a lot of incorrect information floating around the internet about this notion.

woman in california wearing a hat looking out at beach after divorcing from ten year marriage
There is a lot of myth surrounding the 10-year rule in California, with many people believing that you are entitled to alimony for life after dissolving a long-term marriage.

Many people mistakenly believe that you are guaranteed alimony for life if your marriage lasted for at least ten years, according to California divorce law.

However, this isn’t the case. The confusion stems from the fact that courts cannot set a termination date for alimony for marriages of long duration (i.e., of ten years or longer.) With shorter-term marriages, the general presumption is that support should last for “one-half the length of the marriage.”

Even if you were married for more than ten years and got divorced in California, the courts can modify spousal support when there is a substantial change of circumstance unless the parties have created a prior agreement regarding a specific termination date. Alimony can also end when the recipient enters into a registered domestic partnership or remarries or when either party passes away.

What Are You Entitled to After 10 Years of Marriage?

In addition to the laws surrounding Social Security benefits, you might find that what you are entitled to in a divorce after ten years of marriage is different than those you can receive if your marriage didn’t last at least ten years. The laws in each state are different, so it’s important to research the family law in your state or speak with an attorney that is licensed to practice in your state.

If you and your spouse signed a prenup before the wedding, you might have worked out terms regarding alimony in this document. You’ll want to take a look at the details of your prenuptial agreement if you are preparing for divorce to help you understand what the support arrangement will be.

Important note: While you can memorialize a binding agreement in regards to alimony in your prenup, you cannot use a prenup to limit the amount of child support one spouse will owe or determine child custody in advance. The reason for this is that the right to child support doesn’t belong to the parents but instead to the child and child custody decisions are based on what is in the best interest of the child.

What Are You Entitled to After 10 Years of Marriage in Texas?

If you are getting divorced in Texas, it’s important to understand that being awarded court-ordered spousal maintenance is in no way a certainty, even if you've been married for a long time. Texas is considered one of the most difficult states to receive spousal maintenance through the courts, and they decide who is awarded this type of support on a case-by-case basis.

cacti in texas where you can get spousal support after ten years of marriage
Receiving court-ordered spousal maintenance isn't easy in Texas, but one of the most common reasons it is awarded is when a spouse from a marriage of ten years or more can prove that they need support to get to a place of financial independence.

Texas law approaches spousal maintenance from the standpoint of necessity– basically, they don’t favor awarding maintenance by any means. Spousal maintenance is something that is only court-ordered when the court believes that the recipient of support needs the additional financial support to get themselves to a point of financial independence (or is unable to support themselves for a number of specific reasons.)

There are four primary ways through which an individual can be awarded maintenance by the courts, one of which is:

  • having been married for at least ten years, not having enough income or property to support their basic needs, and either:
    • The primary caretaker of a disabled child
    • Disabled
    • Lacking the earning ability necessary to provide for their basic needs

The other three basic ways are:

  • Both spouses are able to agree that spousal maintenance will be paid during a specific time period.
  • The spouse from whom payment is sought has received deferred adjudication or a conviction for a domestic violence offense against the other party or their children while the divorce is pending or within two years of the divorce filing.
  • The spouse that is asking for maintenance is a sponsored immigrant and enforces the Affidavit of Support that the other spouse executed.

In this final instance, the spouse that is a sponsored immigrant has to ask the court to order their spouse to provide them with 125% of the U.S. Federal Poverty Guidelines until they become an American citizen or they have reached forty credits through their work history.

As you can see, you should not expect that you will automatically be awarded court-ordered spousal support just because you have been married for ten years or longer.

older couple getting divorced after thirty years of marriage
The longer you are married in Texas before getting divorced, the more years you can receive spousal maintenance if the court awards it to you.

How long the marriage lasted does have an impact on how long spousal maintenance payments are made if they are awarded in a divorce case:

  • For marriages that lasted between ten and twenty years, spousal maintenance payments have a limit of five years
  • For marriages that lasted between twenty and thirty years, spousal maintenance payments have a limit of seven years
  • For marriages that lasted thirty years or longer, spousal maintenance payments have a limit of ten years

There are a number of reasons why these payments can end early in Texas, which are:

  • The death of either spouse
  • The court created a new order after reviewing the existing order
  • The recipient spouse beginning to live with another person they are involved in a romantic relationship with or dating
  • The recipient spouse remarrying

If you believe you should receive alimony or spousal support as a part of your divorce, you’ll be glad to know that receiving court-ordered spousal maintenance isn’t the only way to be paid alimony. Spousal support can also be one of the terms negotiated during your divorce settlement. If the two of you are able to agree, you can set up whatever arrangement you are both comfortable with so long as the court believes it to be fair and just.

Divorce After Ten Years: Final Thoughts

Getting divorced after having been married for a long time is one of the most difficult things anyone can do. If you have been married for nine years and are considering getting divorced, the people around you might encourage you to hang on for a little longer in order to receive the benefits of the 10-year rule. While they might not be wrong in regards to the potential to receive Social Security benefits via your spouse, it’s important to understand all of the details before making such a big decision.

The best thing you can do is probably to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney that is licensed to practice in your state. Since state laws vary greatly surrounding spousal support and alimony, they will be able to help you understand what your options are and what it means to get divorced before or after the ten-year mark. If you are considering representing yourself in your divorce, it can still be very useful to have a conversation with an attorney to help you structure your approach.

Are you busy reading up on Texas family law to prepare for your divorce? Be sure to check out the rest of our Texas divorce laws blog.


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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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