What is spousal support?
Spousal support is better known as alimony. Alimony is payable when a spousal relationship otherwise known as marriage, breaks down. The higher earner or the person who has the greater assets may be required to make payments to support the other. The payment of this alimony is guided by Section 33 of the Family Law act as well as section 15 of the Divorce Act. It essentially means that one half of the partnership may be ordered to provide financial support to their spouse and dependents.
In this context, the term ‘spouse’ refers to one half of a couple who are legally married or a couple who are recognized to be a partnership under common law. In order to be married under common law the couple must be able to prove that they have lived together for at least 3 years. If children are involved, then the period of cohabitation does not need to be as long but must be of a significant period of time. These rules apply to all couples, including same-sex relationships.
Support is put in place to ensure that the contribution to the relationship of each spouse is recognized. It means that if one spouse has given up work to be a stay at home parent and is unable to financially support themselves, they receive enough money initially to be able to support both themselves and their dependents. They could otherwise fall into financial hardship very quickly.
What is the obligation to pay support?
There is no automatic right to receive support. There are certain eligibility criteria which must be met before money is payable. It is possible for couples to reach a mutual agreement about support, in which case the courts do not need to become involved. However, because support is so crucial to some individuals who would otherwise be unable to maintain their current standard of living without it, it is important to ensure that a fair deal is made.
You need to be able to show that you meet one of three types of eligibility criteria in order to receive support. These are as follows:
- Compensatory spousal support
This type of financial support may be payable if you stayed at home to look after children or supported your partner in pursuing their career. As a result of these caring responsibilities, you gave up the opportunity to build your own career.
- Non-compensatory spousal support
Non-compensatory spousal support applies if following the breakdown of your relationship you have inadequate funds to support yourself, but your partner is financially secure enough to support you. This is also known as needs-based support.
- Contractual spousal support
You may have made an agreement prior to your marriage or partnership that states that you will receive spousal support in the event that you separate. This is known as a cohabitation agreement or marriage contract. In this situation, your spouse is contractually obliged to fulfill the promise to provide support.
How much support do I need to pay?
Assuming there is no contractual spousal agreement which stipulates how much spousal support needs to be paid, then the courts will rely upon the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines which will help to decide how much financial support should be given, and for how long. The final decision however will lie with the judge.
When the courts are deliberating the amount of spousal support, they will take a certain number of factors into account. These will include:
How long the relationship has lasted
Whether there are children involved
The income of each spouse
The age of each spouse
The role that each spouse played during the marriage
Any physical or mental health issues
Whether or not each spouse is able to financially support themselves.
Higher payments are usually made where there is a big differential between the two incomes, where there are children involved and where partners have been together for a long time. These factors will also decide how long spousal support is paid for. Shorter relationships and incomes that are similar will usually mean that spousal support is paid for less time.
It is possible to do a simple calculation using an online calculator, but this only takes into account the most basic figures. For a more in-depth look at what you may be entitled to receive from spousal support, you should seek a specialist in Ontario family law who will be able to take each of the factors into account and give you a more accurate estimate.
How long must you pay spousal support for?
Unless there are other mitigating factors such as illness or disability, even if you are successful in your claim for alimony, the court will expect you to begin supporting yourself as soon as you can following the separation. This duty to become self-sufficient will be imposed by the courts when making their assessments.
The length of spousal support payments will be judged on the same factors as the amount of spousal support. The courts will use the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines.
Can the terms be renegotiated if our circumstances change?
A court order to pay spousal support can only be changed if a ‘Motion to Change’ is granted. Reasons for this Motion to Change may include a change in financial circumstances, which means that the spouse who is required to pay support loses their job or has an unexpected drop in income. Remarriage or retirement can also affect the requirement to pay, as can illness or disability which affects a spouse’s ability to pay, or the recipient’s ability to self-support.
Having identified all the ways in which there may be a future dispute, we think this serves as an illustration as to why a formal court order should be sought. The court order offers protection in the case of a dispute as it is legally binding. A spousal support lawyer in Ontario will have your best interests at heart and will draw up a contract for your protection.
In view of the above discussion, we strongly recommend seeking an Experienced Family Lawyer Toronto who can help with spousal support matters. A family lawyer will be able to advise you of your legal rights and obligations relating to support, to ensure that you receive the payments that you are entitled to. SHAIKH LAW FIRM is one of the Leading Law Firm in Toronto dealing in Family Law Matters.