Family Law Corner: Marriage for More Than Ten Years is Key in Kobe's Divorce


In mid-December 2011, Vanessa Bryant, wife of basketball player, Kobe Bryant filed for divorce and requested spousal support in her Petition.  Since Kobe and Vanessa married in April 2001 and no date of separation was listed on the Petition, it appears they were married for at least 10 and one-half years. 
TMZ followed up on the Bryant divorce story with an interview with Vanessa’s former stepfather who insisted that Vanessa had learned from her mother the importance of not filing for divorce until the marriage has lasted at least ten years to ensure that lifetime spousal support remains on the table.

Under Family Code §4336, “the court retains jurisdiction indefinitely in a proceeding for dissolution of marriage…where the marriage is of long duration” and a marriage of long duration is defined as “a marriage of 10 years or more.”  In contrast, for a marriage of less than ten years duration, Family Code §4320(l) states that support “generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage.”  Given this important distinction between a marriage of short or long duration, couples separating close to that ten year mark have incentive to pay attention to how close to the mark they are.

Another celebrity couple, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, attracted considerable attention during their divorce because of this length of marriage issue.  The Petition that Cruise filed claimed a nine year and eleven month marriage, while Kidman’s Response claimed a marriage of ten years and one month.  The two month difference between the parties’ claimed dates of separation meant the difference between just under five years of spousal support or a lifetime of spousal support for Kidman, who was the lower earning party at the time.  It is unknown how Kidman and Cruise resolved this issue because their settlement kept any spousal support provisions that may have existed confidential.

Despite the attention paid to the ten year mark, Family Code §4320 and numerous family law cases point out that length of the marriage is but one factor in determining the length of support.  Other factors relate generally to the ability of the supported spouse to support his or herself.  See In re Marriage of Morrison (1978) 20 Cal.3d 437; In re Marriage of Ackerman (2006) 146 Cal.App.4th 191; In re Marriage of Schmir (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 43.
As of the writing of this article, Kobe had not filed a Response to his wife’s Petition.  Once filed, his Response may create a dispute regarding whether or not their marriage lasted ten years.  It remains to be seen if the Bryants will have a battle similar to the Kidman-Cruise dispute and, hopefully, like Cruise and Kidman, they will reach an agreement on these issues.