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Move forward to a secure, successful future in spousal support disputes. A spouse may have to pay spousal support if such payment meets one or more of the main purposes of spousal support set out in the Divorce Act or provincial spousal support laws. At the same time, spouses who receive spousal support have an obligation to become self-supporting where reasonable.

  • What is spousal support?

  • Am I entitled to spousal support?

  • How is spousal support calculated?

  • How long will I have to pay spousal support?

  • When can I stop paying spousal support?

  • Does a new relationship impact spousal support?

What is spousal support?

Spousal support (formerly called spousal alimony) is paid by one spouse to financially support the other spouse after separation, under an agreement or order. The same criteria apply to opposite- and same-sex common-law and married couples for the determination of entitlement and duration and amount.

The four objectives of BC spousal support are to:

  • Deal with any economic advantages or disadvantages a spouse may face as a result of the relationship or separation;
  • Share the financial consequences arising from care of the children;
  • Reduce the financial hardship a spouse will experience as a result of the separation;
  • Encourage each spouse to become financially self-sufficient within a reasonable period of time.

It should also be noted that in making a decision about spousal support, a judge will not look at any other aspects of your marriage, such as who left the relationship or the fact that one of you had an affair.

In the event of your marriage breakdown, it’s important that both you and your spouse are able to continue to meet your daily needs and live and work to your full potential as you move forward to a new future.

Our experienced spousal support lawyers offer you strategic, expert counsel, and steer you through this very complex, often highly emotional aspect of your separation or divorce. We’ll help you resolve your family financial matters so that you can move securely forward to a successful future.

Am I entitled to spousal support?

Multiple factors come into play when assessing spousal support. Your eligibility to pay or receive spousal support and the recommended amount payable are dependent upon your unique marriage and financial circumstances (including prenuptial and postnuptial contracts), federal and provincial guidelines, as well as specific rules, criteria, formulas and time limitations.

A spouse may have to pay spousal support if such payment meets one or more of the main purposes of spousal support set out in the Divorce Act. They are:
To compensate a spouse who sacrifices his or her ability to earn income during the marriage;

To compensate a spouse for the ongoing care of children, over and above any child support obligation;

To help a spouse in financial need arising from the breakdown of the marriage.

At the same time, spouses who receive support have an obligation to become self-supporting where reasonable.

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, called “SSAG” for short, provide direction for both quantum and the duration of BC spousal support. The “with” and “without child” spousal support formulas contain dramatic differences in the amount and duration of spousal support payable. Check out this article and video to learn more.

One principle that spousal support is based on is compensation. For example, if you gave up a career or educational and work opportunities to either raise children, or due to spousal relocation that furthers their career, or both, you are likely entitled to be compensated with spousal support for what you gave up during the marriage.

There is also non-compensatory support, which is like Robin Hood effect: take from the rich, give to the poor. If someone has money and the other person has need, the court may make that person pay so the other person does not suffer financial hardship.

The most common mistake people make is bargaining away their support or paying far too much in support because they didn’t go see a lawyer first. The experts at MacLean Family Law are here to help you resolve your family financial matters so that you can move securely forward to a successful future.

How is spousal support calculated?

The Canadian Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, while not legislated or mandatory, provide a formula for spousal support you can use as a benchmark. The “without child formula” multiplies the years of marriage times 1.5 to 2 percent of the difference of incomes. For instance, in a short marriage you will get a short payment of support and will be relatively nominal. However, in a long marriage, you will be approaching an equal sharing of incomes. The principle is basically the longer the marriage, the greater the presumption of equal standards of living at the end of that marriage.

As you can see, support is based on the income of each spouse. One of the biggest disputed areas we see in our practice of high net worth divorce in BC and Alberta, is setting the accurate and correct income of spouses. You can’t have a paying spouse who’s bitter, quitting his job, or working half time trying to pay less support. Nor can you have a disgruntled former spouse that’s receiving support, refusing to re-train or look for work to try to maximize support. Both parties have to work to their capacity, by looking at their education level, their skills and their work history. We call that “attributing income” in cases where someone is working less than their full capacity.

It is not a simple matter to determine whether an individual is or will be liable for spousal support and there are many exceptions to the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. In medium to high net worth families, those who are self-employed or who own a businesses can make the spousal support calculations very complicated. You can rely on the resources of MacLean Law to help determine the best outcomes related to spousal support.

How long will I have to pay spousal support?

The Canadian Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines deal with how long a person has to pay spousal support. It is important to remember that you don’t have to be married to pay spousal support, as it applies to marriage–like relationships as well. The duration of spousal support is determined after considering the circumstances of each spouse, including:

  • Your financial situation and the financial situation of your former spouse;
  • How long your relationship lasted;
  • The roles and functions of each spouse during the relationship;
  • What the person who is asking for spousal support needs in order to become self-sufficient, such as extra training or education.

The “without child” formula is based on a half year to a full year for each year of the relationship. As an example, in a ten year relationship, the payment range might be five years at the low end, ten years at the high end.

These guidelines are not law, and while most lawyers and judges use them as a guidance, they allow for many exceptions and much discretion. They are complicated and very fact-driven. It’s therefore in your best interest to obtain comprehensive analysis from the experts at MacLean Family law.

When can I stop paying spousal support?

One of the most contentious issues surrounding spousal support is the assumption that by simply becoming re-married again, support will stop. How the support was originally awarded determines when the support payments stop. If support was based on compensatory principles, for giving up a career or educational opportunities, having to move and giving up work, then the support will probably not end. If it’s based on the non-compensatory support principle, on need and ability to pay, that support may end because your needs will be reduced.

Examples of other factors that are considered when determining end of support payments are:

  • Payor’s retirement date;
  • Recipient’s anticipated length of recovery from an illness;
  • Age at which the children will enter school or the age at which they can enter daycare.

After a separation or divorce, former spouses should be working towards financial independence and to be able support themselves as soon as they possibly can. However, circumstances will change over time, and it may be prudent to include a spousal support review after a specified amount of time into the agreement.

Does a new relationship impact spousal support?

Situations involving a new relationship for either the payor of support or the recipient of support are often examined on a case by case basis because it can be difficult to determine a formula for these circumstances.

From the payor’s perspective, the payor’s remarriage or re-partnering may improve the payor’s ability to pay in the event of shared living expenses with the new spouse or partner.

From the recipient’s perspective, if their new partner’s income is lower, support may continue. If their new partner’s income is similar or higher, it’s possible that support could be reduced or even stopped.

Having divorce and spousal support experts from MacLean Family Law will ensure your rights are protected as circumstances evolve over time.

MacLean Family Law consistently achieves amazing results for their clients, including a very recent record-setting decision for the highest monthly spousal support order in BC history. Their team is led by Lorne MacLean, Q.C., and they're fantastic. I highly recommend them to anyone for family law disputes or estate litigation.

Tyler H