Spousal Support

For couples facing divorce or separation, the amount of spousal support they receive or will need to provide is a top concern.
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The Court may order a spouse to pay spousal support under either the Family Law Act[1] of the Divorce Act.[2]  Both statutes set out criteria which are intended to guide the court in its award.

The federal Divorce Act sets out the spousal support rules for married couples who divorce. Since the Divorce Act is a federal law, the rules apply across Canada.

Provincial or territorial laws set out the rules for unmarried couples who were in a common-law relationship and for married couples who separate but who are not divorcing.

Under the federal Divorce Act, spousal support is most likely to be paid when there is a big difference between the spouses’ incomes after they separate. However, this is not always the case. A court may decide that the spouse with the lower income is not entitled to support. The court may reach this decision if that spouse has a lot of assets, or if the difference in income cannot be traced to anything that happened during the relationship.

The three most difficult questions with respect to spousal support are entitlement, quantum and duration. Spousal support is awarded on the basis of several factors, including but not limited to:

  • The education and employment skills of the spouses;
  • Respective Incomes of the parties;
  • Physical and emotional condition of the spouse seeking spousal support;
  • Standard of living of the parties;
  • The duration of the marriage or cohabitation;
  • The ability of the supporting spouse to meet his/her own needs;
  • The functions performed by each spouse during the relationship;
  • The ages of both parties;
  • Ability to be self-sufficient.

Although both the Family Law Act and the Divorce Act set out criteria which are intended to guide the court in its award, the area is a difficult one with frequently conflicting cases. A spousal support award calls for the exercise of the judicial discretion based on the application of the law to the facts of each case. There is no set formula for the amount of spousal support, although there are a set of non binding spousal support guidelines that judges and legal professionals use.

People require the knowledge of an experienced spousal support lawyer to guide them given their special circumstances and individual concerns.

Ask us to explain the spousal support advisory guidelines (SSAGs) and how they apply to your situation.

[1] Family Law Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F.3
[2] Divorce Act R.S.C., 1985, c. 3 (2nd Supp.)

Factors judges consider

Judges must consider a number of factors when deciding if a spouse should get support after a divorce. These factors include:

  • the financial means and needs of both spouses;
  • the length of the marriage;
  • the roles of each spouse during their marriage;
  • the effect of those roles and the breakdown of the marriage on both spouses’ current financial positions;
  • the care of the children;
  • the goal of encouraging a spouse who receives support to be self-sufficient in a reasonable period of time; and
  • any orders, agreements or arrangements already made about spousal support.

Judges must also consider whether spousal support would meet the following purposes:

  • to compensate the spouse with the lower income for sacrificing some power to earn income during the marriage;
  • to compensate the spouse with the lower income for ongoing care of children; or
  • to help a spouse who is in financial need if the other spouse has the ability to pay.

At the same time, the judge must consider that a spouse who receives support has an obligation to become self-supporting, where reasonable.