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How Long is Spousal Support Paid?

How Long is Spousal Support Paid? Our top-rated Vancouver spousal support lawyers get asked this question frequently. There are different rules depending on whether you have children or not. In today’s blog, Jonathan Wai answers the burning question of: How Long is Spousal Support Paid? The length of the relationship, the ages of the spouses and the presence of children all matter.

How Long is Spousal Support Paid? 1 877 602 9900

Spousal support is intended to help the recipient spouse deal with the financial effects of marriage, separation, and divorce.  But that is just part of the question.  Both the payor, and recipient, want to know how long will the payments last, so they can each plan for that, and for the next phase of their lives.   And in some cases when paying spouses ask, “How Long is Spousal Support Paid?” they find out spousal support can even last for several years far longer than the number of years of the marriage! 

Vancouver Spousal Support Lawyers Can Help

1 877 602 9900

So, Spousal Support: How Long is Too Long?   The answer varies from case to case, leaving much uncertainty for both spouses and recipients  “How Long is Spousal Support Paid?   MacLean Law senior associate lawyer Jonathan Wai explains the principles involved and applicability of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, to answer the question of “How Long is Spousal Support Paid?”

The objectives of spousal support include, very simply put, to compensate a spouse for opportunities lost during the marriage, and/or to address financial need after separation, such that the higher-earning spouse pays a monthly amount to the recipient, the lower-earning spouse, for a period of time.   

How Long is Spousal Support Paid? 1 877 602 9900

Assuming grounds for spousal support exist, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, developed by law professors, help determine how much is the monthly amount, and for how long it is paid.  The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines are not the law, but they are a useful tool that the court is required by law to at least consider when determining the monthly amount of spousal support, and the length of time it was to be paid. 

As the authors of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines acknowledge, there are circumstances where a relatively short marriage can result in spousal support be paid for a length of time far more than the length of the marriage.  Hence the question, Spousal Support: How Long is Too Long?

With Or Without Child SSAG Support Formula

Spousal support length in marriages where there are no children is usually simpler to figure out.  For example, in short relationships of less than 5 years and without children, as a rule of thumb, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines would indicate the duration of spousal support as ½ a year to a year for every year of the marriage.  For example, for a 4-year marriage, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines would indicate spousal support lasts for 2-4 years.   These cases are usually more straightforward and less of a “problem” (Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, July 2008, page 63).

However, where the parties have a child together, it becomes more complicated.  If, for example, the parties are married for 2 years with a child less than 1-year-old, spousal support, in theory, might last until the child turns 19, a period of over 18 years, several times longer than the marriage!  A rationale might be “continuing economic disadvantage and limitations placed on [the recipient’s] ability to achieve full-self-sufficiency by her post-separation custodial responsibilities” (page 86), including considering the labour market for the recipient parent, if the child or children have “special needs or developed problems in their teenage years” (page 87). 

However, that is quite clearly the upper end of “how long”.   The lower end of “how long”, would be the “date the youngest child starts attending school full-time” (page 84).  In the example above, that could yield as much as 5 years of spousal support.  The authors of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines acknowledge that even that raises “concerns,” as the length of time of spousal support may be too long for such a short marriage (page 87).

Another scenario is where the parties are close to or over the age of 65 (assuming they have no children, or that their children already adults).  For example, whether the parties were married for 8 years, and the recipient is age 63 at separation, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines “Rule of 65” is invoked.  The Rule of 65 states that, where the age of the recipient at separation (here 63) plus the number of years of the marriage (must be longer than 5 years, here it is 8) equal more than 65 (here 63 + 8 = 71, more than 65), spousal support is “indefinite”, meaning it continues, until further written agreement or court order. 

Spousal Support: How Long Is Too Long?

So what does that mean?  Does the higher-earning spouse have to pay the lower-earning spouse for the rest of their lives, which might be far longer than another 8 years?  What about retirement and reduced income?  What if the payor’s pension has already been divided, such that the recipient spouse would be getting a share of the pension, on top of spousal support?  And in short, Spousal Support: How Long is Too Long?

All of these are valid questions, and the answer will depend on the circumstances of your case.  “Indefinite” spousal support does not necessarily mean “permanent” spousal support (page 62).  Indefinite spousal support is still subject to “variation and review” (page 61), meaning the court may, at some point, change or terminate spousal if there is a material change of circumstances.  Retirement is a common example, as is a pension that starts at retirement.  As well, a “review” may be scheduled, which there likely should be, in medium length marriage like the 8-year example listed above.   In a review, the court does not need a party to show a material change of circumstances and instead looks at all the circumstances freshly, with regards to the amount and duration of spousal support. 

For another example of how a court dealt with a “rule of 65” marriage, see the blog “Grey Divorce Early Retirement” also by Jonathan Wai involving a case that included a pension that had already been divided, and a party who retired earlier than age 65.      

As you can see, the answer to the question, Spousal Support: How Long is Too Long? yields some examples where spousal support goes on for longer than the length of the marriage.  While the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines are a useful tool that the court is required to consider, the authors acknowledge that there are a wide range of circumstances, which will affect the length of time spousal support is paid. 

At MacLean Law, we have many experienced Vancouver spousal support lawyers who can advise you on your particular circumstances, and answer your question, Spousal Support: How Long is Too Long.  We have offices in Vancouver, Surrey, Kelowna, Fort St. John and Calgary to serve you.