Divorce after a Long-Term Marriage

When couples divorce after a long-term marriage—a marriage of 18 or more years—their focus often differs from that of couples who have had shorter marriages.


Their children may be older, so custody may not be an issue. Paying for college or graduate school may be. In the District, payment for college education can be required by a court, since child support continues to age 21. But in Maryland, where child support ends at an earlier age, contributing to a child’s college education is voluntary.

Workforce Re-entry

A spouse who has largely been out of the work force may need to find employment. Courts award alimony based in part on theoretical future earnings. It’s tough for people over 40 to enter or re-enter the workforce. That’s why, after all, a federal law was needed to protect people over 40 from employment discrimination. But courts are limited by statute in how they can address spousal support. In mediation, negotiation and collaborative law processes, individuals can devise more creative and flexible spousal support solutions.


After 18 or more years of marriage, pensions, 401ks, IRAs and other retirement assets take on heightened significance. There is more planning around retirement lifestyles. Federal law allows for the division of such assets, although there are highly technical laws about how to do so. Social Security benefits are not divisible in divorce.

Length of Marriage

The statutes of both Maryland and DC list the duration of a marriage as a factor to be considered by a court in distributing marital property and awarding alimony. Usually the longer the marriage, the more it is presumed property will be divided 50/50. Alimony is also often considered more appropriate after a long-term marriage.


While the focus of divorcing individuals after long-term marriages may be different from that of couples in shorter marriages, many needs are similar. All divorcing couples need to concentrate on their futures. All need to understand their finances. All need to get competent legal advice. And all need to choose the least costly effective process that works for them.


This is not legal advice. Please read our "disclaimer" to understand why this information is not a substitute for legal advice.