When a relationship ends, it may be necessary for one party to provide spousal support to the other (commonly referred to as ‘alimony’). Spousal support obligations arise not only in marriages, but also in common-law relationships including same-sex relationships.
Unlike child support, spousal spouse is not an automatic right in Ontario when a marriage ends.
Spousal support is money paid by a former spouse or partner to the other after separation or divorce. The rules governing spousal support for divorcing couples are set out by the Divorce Act, while the rules governing this issue for common law couples is governed by Ontario’s Family Law Act.
It is possible to obtain spousal support in one of three ways:
- through a Marriage Contract/Cohabitation Agreement prior to marriage,
- through a Separation Agreement,
- or through a divorce application.
However, before going down this road, it is important to note that spousal support consists of two main factors.
ENTITLEMENT & QUANTUM AND DURATION
Entitlement requires looking at whether one of the spouses is deserving of spousal support. This forces one to examine the length of time the parties cohabited; the functions performed by each during cohabitation, and any orders and agreements entered into by the parties to resolve the issue. It is important to keep in mind that the underlying purpose of spousal support is to:
- recognize economic advantages or disadvantages arising from the marriage or its breakdown;
- apportion financial consequences of child care;
- relieve economic hardship resulting from marriage breakdown; and
- promote economic self-sufficiency of each spouse.
Once entitlement is determined, quantum and duration is often addressed by using the calculations provided by the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines.
Reductions and increases and termination of spousal support
There are a number of ways in which a reduction, increase or termination of spousal support can be sought by either the recipient spouse or payor spouse.
Review of Order
The court order for spousal support may include language that permits a party to return to court to review the spousal support amount.
If this is no Review of Order, then a material change in the circumstance of either the payer or payee must be shown before a court will consider reviewing the spousal support order. Material changes in circumstance may include:
- Significant increase/decrease in payor or recipient spouse income
- The recipient is remarried and support was only being paid based on need.
- Child support has since ended and the spouse is consequently seeking an adjustment in spousal support.
- The payor spouse is unable to pay spousal support due to an unforeseen change in circumstances
The law encompassing spousal support is one of the most complicated areas in family law. It is highly recommended that you seek legal advice regarding spousal support.