When news breaks that a celebrity couple is separating after a short marriage, as with Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth this morning, many of us are left scratching our heads wondering what happened and why a couple might get divorced so soon after marrying.
Didn't they just walk down the aisle?
Keep your judgment at the door: the reality is that divorce in the first or second year of marriage is far more common than people think.
Studies show that 10% of all divorces occur within the first two years of marriage. When it comes to Cyrus and Hemsworth, they married on December 23, 2018 and announced their separation on August 12, 2019, clocking in at just under 8 months.
What explains this trend? The emotional and psychological reasons are as varied as the unique personalities involved. However, legally speaking, in California, the duration of a marriage can significantly impact financial rights.
First, the length of marriage does not impact its legal effect - which is to say, with marriage you have signed a binding contract. So to answer your question: no, the marriage not working out after a few months is not grounds for an annulment.
Second, many prenuptial agreements contain terms that kick in after a certain length of marriage. For example, a prenuptial agreement may state that zero spousal support is owed if the parties are married for one year, five years, or less. Such provisions may motivate a spouse to act in a failing marriage because after that, their exes may get a lot of money.
Third, duration of marriage also impacts spousal support (commonly known as alimony) and asset division in California divorces. In the absence of a prenuptial agreement that states otherwise, spousal support is generally payable for half the length of the marriage in a marriage of under 10 years. So, if you've been married for one year and spousal support is payable, it will generally last for six months.
As for property rights, in the absence of a prenuptial agreement stating otherwise, all assets acquired during a marriage are community property to be split evenly upon divorce. Assets acquired after separation with separate income or other separate funds are generally separate property. Again, this legal reality may motivate a spouse in a failing marriage to protect future financial prospects.
When it comes to child custody, a short marriage does not change the fact that children benefit from frequent and continuing contact and robust relationships with both parents whenever possible. A short marriage also does not impact the duration of child support payments.
Bottom line: divorce is never easy. Divorce of a short term marriage presents its own set of challenges, emotionally and legally. Whether you've been married a month, a year, or more, divorce is emotional and it's hard. But each day, people make the decision to take the leap of faith to a brighter future and come out the other side happier and more fulfilled.
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