Ben Affleck-Jennifer Garner Divorce Could Show the Power of 10

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner - H 2015
AP Images

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner - H 2015

By ending her marriage to Ben Affleck now, Jennifer Garner has gotten 10 years of wedlock. And that could be significant, say legal observers.

"A marriage of 10 years or more is deemed a lengthy marriage in California," says Scott Robinson at Liner LLP. "This creates some issues, chiefly with regard to spousal support, and is one of many factors the court must consider in determining whether there should be any spousal support and, if there is, the amount and duration."

The "10 year rule" is part of California's family code and could also mean that a judge will be looking after the Affleck-Garner split for years to come.

For those looking for insight into celebrity divorces, a marriage falling just short of 10 years or barely making it past the mark provides a lot of room for speculation. An example: If a couple has a prenuptial agreement, spousal support (also called alimony) might be dictated by contract and give a judge less latitude toward ordering one spouse to make ongoing payments to another. And so, a marriage lasting very near the 10 year mark — either below or above — might be indicative of no prenup.

Burt Levitch, an attorney at Rosenfeld Meyer & Susman, says he's counseled well-heeled clients in troubled marriages to be mindful of the ticking clock. "If they're in year eight or nine and feeling vulnerable, go ahead and file for dissolution," he says.

In fact, celebrity marriages that last exactly nine years instead of exactly 10 appear to be a more common phenomenon. Some examples of nine-year marriages include Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman (three days short of 10), Will Arnett-Amy Poehler, Paula Patton-Robin Thicke, Sonny Bono-Cher, Mayim Bialik-Michael Stone, Christie Brinkley-Peter Cook, Nora Ephron-Dan Greenburg, Tom Hanks-Samantha Lewes, Brendan Fraser-Afton Smith and Kim Basinger-Alec Baldwin. Of course, there's no way to tell whether any of these marriages ended at nine because of legal advantage or whether it was merely a coincidence. The same goes for other marriages like Meg Ryan-Dennis Quaid, Hilary Swank-Chad Lowe or Gwyneth Paltrow-Chris Martin that ended at 10 years.

Levitch also says there's no income cap precluding spousal support. If Affleck and Garner had no prenup, and she waited for the right time to ask for a divorce so as to garner spousal support, the fact that she derives money from past roles on Alias and Dallas Buyers Club won't limit a claim of entitlement to the many millions that Affleck is getting for playing Batman and other roles.

"They both have ability to earn good living, but one of them obviously makes a lot more," says Levitch. "She is raising a lot of kids. That has become her focus, and so a court might say, 'This is a marriage of 10 years or more. The pattern in marriage was that the husband provided the bulk of resources.' So it's possible a judge will use this to establish spousal support on an ongoing basis."