Spousal Support: A Primer on Entitlement, Amount and Duration

Will I have to pay spousal support to my ex-spouse?

The law generally views spousal relationships (whether married or common-law) as financial partnerships. When this relationship breaks down the spouse with a higher income or more assets may be obligated to support their former spouse, which is known as spousal support. This post will cover a general overview of spousal support including who may be eligible, how it is calculated, and for how long it must be paid.

The goal of spousal support is to assist and encourage the recipient spouse to obtain employment and become self-sufficient. It is also aimed at ensuring that the recipient spouse is able to maintain the standard of living to which they had become accustomed.

Am I entitled to spousal support?

Before an amount or duration of support can be calculated, it must first be determined whether a spouse is entitled to support

Generally speaking, if it is found that one spouse is in a worse position financially due to the relationship and its breakdown, the spouse in the better financial position may be required to pay support (known as "compensatory" support). Support may also be ordered based on a spouse's need and the other spouse's ability to pay (known as "non-compensatory" support).

However, if it is found that a spouse would be unable to pay support, or it would be unconscionable for the court to order support, even if a spouse is entitled, support may not be ordered.

A note on spousal support waivers in prenups: While the court strives to respect agreements made outside of court, a judge may set aside an agreement related to spousal support if there has been a significant change in circumstances that sufficient to warrant setting aside the agreement.

How is spousal support calculated?

Spousal support is calculated based on the income, assets, debts and liabilities of each spouse. This is determined by both spouses completing financial statements and providing full financial disclosure to each other. Based on this information, as well as the age of the spouses, the length of cohabitation, and whether there are any children, an amount of support will be determined.

The most common way of calculating spousal support is by using the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG). These provide a range of possible support payments (low, middle, and high). Unlike the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which courts are required to follow, the SSAG are advisory in nature. This means that the court will take them into consideration, but will ultimately decide what is fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

Most lawyers have access to software which can calculate the suggested amount and duration according the specific circumstances of their clients. For simple calculations you can also use the free support calculator here.

For how long am I entitled to support?

The duration of support is based on the length of cohabitation, as well as the age of the parties.  Typically, spouses who have cohabited for longer will be entitled to support for a longer period of time. For lengthy marriages, support may be ordered to continue indefinitely. In some situations involving older couples, support may be ordered indefinitely due to a spouse's inability to re-enter the workforce or find adequate employment to meet their needs.

For more information on calculating the amount or duration of spousal support, or if you think you may be entitled to support, please contact us today.