Spousal Support

Spousal support is also commonly referred to as alimony. When a marriage breaks down a spouse does not automatically have a right to support. This means that they do not have the right to be maintained in the lifestyle they have been accustomed to. However, the Court may order spousal support where one spouse has suffered a disadvantage either as a result of the marriage or its breakdown, the financial consequences of the care of any child(ren) and the possibility of the spouse becoming self-sufficient. It is important to note that child support is always given priority over spousal support.

In Canada under the Divorce Act, Judges must consider a number of factors when deciding if a spouse should get support after a divorce. These factors include:

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

Judges must also consider whether spousal support would meet the following purpose

  1. to compensate the spouse with the lower income for sacrificing some power to earn income during the marriage;
  2. to compensate the spouse with the lower income for ongoing care of children; or
  3. to help a spouse who is in financial need if the other spouse has the ability to pay.
  4. At the same time, the judge must consider that a spouse who receives support has an obligation to become self-supporting, where reasonable.

The Federal government has drafted Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. However, these guidelines are informal and only advisory in nature – they are not legally binding (unlike the Federal Child Support Guidelines). The formula for calculating the amount and duration of support is complicated and it is suggested that spouses seek legal advice.