(Grey’s) Anatomy of Divorce and the 10 year rule

10 year

Ooof – this one’s gonna be expensive… Actor Jesse Williams from the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” has decided to file for divorce from his wife of 5 years.



Another Hollywood marriage ending in divorce? No surprise there. What’s interesting (to divorce “analysts” like myself) is the length of this marriage. There’s a common misconception that any marriage over 10 years in length means lifetime spousal maintenance will be paid. So these two “only” made it to 5 years – that means he gets off easy, right? Well, it’s not that simple… The length of the marriage is just one of many factors used to determine payout levels, and those factors varies from state to state. There are numerous timing considerations when contemplating divorce, length of marriage is among them. And it’s a very grey area indeed (haha) wait, or is it gray?

Spelling confusion aside, the couple in this case are married in the state of California. Let’s see if we can predict how much a court will likely award to the respondent in this divorce (Mr. Williams is the petitioner, initiating the process). Let’s add some color to the “Grey” areas and break down the “Anatomy” of this divorce’s support calculation factors, shall we? From the California Family Law Code:

Setting the Duration and Amount of Support (Family Code 4320 Factors)

A California court determines the amount and duration of permanent spousal support by weighing twelve factors set out in Cal. Fam. Code 4320:

(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage

(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party

(c) The ability to pay of the supporting party, taking into account the supporting party’s earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living

(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage; (e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party

(f) The duration of the marriage

(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party

(h) The age and health of the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party where the court finds documented evidence of a history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, against the supported party by the supporting party

(i) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party

(j) The balance of the hardships to each party

(k) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties; and

(l) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.


So, while it’s not a long term marriage (5 years), one can reasonably assume that Mr. Williams’ income increased substantially during the marriage. He was a teacher when they met, and he’s now on a successful TV series. And he’s certainly got ability to pay. And I’m guessing the wife contributed quite a bit to the attainment of the husbands career. So even though they didn’t make it to the mythical magic 10 year mark, I’d say that someone’s going to be writing some pretty big spousal maintenance checks…

So if you’re thinking about (or currently participating in) a divorce, make sure you understand the factors that go into determining spousal maintenance. Understanding the anatomy of your divorce’s financial considerations now could help make your future look a lot less “grey”. 🙂



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