Spousal Support: The Basics

What is spousal support?

Spousal support is an allowance paid by one spouse to the other after a separation. A spouse might ask for spousal support because they have a significantly lower income and need help making ends meet. Other times the request for spousal support is because they want money from their former spouse. Spousal support payments can be monthly, periodically, or in a lump sum payment. The money could be intended to be used to help cover living expenses and to keep both spouse’s lifestyles comparable and/or to offer compensation for something. The spousal support might be for a short term for a spouse to get back on their feet, or it might drag on for longer depending on the circumstances.

Can I ask for spousal support? 

People can ask for whatever you want, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will receive it. Anyone with questions with respect to whether their situation meets the criteria for spousal support must receive this opinion from a lawyer. Spousal support is complex. Lawyers are the only ones that can make an assessment based on the facts because this falls into the realm of legal advice. Edmonton Family Network shares this information for discussion purposes only.

Section 15.2(4) of the Divorce Act (Canada) sets out that the court, when making an order for spousal support, will take into consideration the condition, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse, including:

(a) the length of time the spouses cohabited;

(b) the functions performed by each spouse during cohabitation; and,

(c) any order, agreement or arrangement relating to support of either spouse.

Section 12.2(5) of the Divorce Act (Canada) sets out that “spousal misconduct” in relation to the marriage is not taken into consideration. So in other words, it doesn’t matter how shitty the spouse was, how poorly they performed whatever role they had, or whether the spouse cheated or screwed the entire City of Edmonton. Spousal support entitlement does not consider the spouse’s integrity or whether they deserve it.

What’s the point of spousal support?

Section 12.2(6) of the Divorce Act (Canada) sets out that the objectives of spousal support are as follows:

(a) recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the marriage or its breakdown;

(b) apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage over and above any obligation for the support of any child of the marriage;

(c) relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the marriage; and,

(d) in so far as practicable, promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.

Not sure what this means? A spouse who lived with someone for a long period of time that made more money and paid the bills (the “breadwinner”), being a trophy spouse (ie, “housewife” or “house-hubby”) or having the privilege to be a stay-at-home parent could mean there is entitlement to spousal support. With respect to granting spousal support, the Honourable Court aims to “even the score” when it’s appropriate.

How much spousal support would I get?

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAG”) are not set in stone like the Federal Child Support Guidelines (“FCSG”) tend to beThe Honourable Court can use its discretion when granting an order for spousal support. On the other hand, it would be very hard to convince the Honourable Court to exercise the same discretion with respect to changing the amount paid for child support.

The Basic SSAG formula aims to give the recipient somewhere between 40-46% of the total income. There are different formulas within the SSAG that change the amount that would be paid. Anyone that is curious on how much spousal support could be can calculate it using resources like My Support Calculator.

Spousal support is a complex issue that can get messy. It should be sought with the advice of a lawyer. A spouse might be entitled to spousal support on a compensatory basis for their role during the marriage, and/or on a non-compensatory basis resulting from the barriers that the spouse would face in entering the workforce. A spouse in pursuit of spousal support should speak with a lawyer to assess the strength of their entitlement, the amount and length that might be due for spousal support. 

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