Spousal Support (Alimony) in Canada


Spousal support is otherwise known as “alimony” is a payment made by one spouse to his former partner. It is available to both persons in a marriage or in a common-law relationship. However, unmarried persons can only seek an order for the payment of spousal support in certain circumstances.

The purpose of spousal support is multi-fold: it recognizes economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouse resulting from the marriage or its breakdown, it apportions between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage over and above the obligation apportioned between the spouses, it relieves any economic hardship of the spouse arising from the breakdown of the marriage and promotes the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.

Unlike child support, there is no automatic right to spousal supporOpens in a new tab.t. Whether it is paid, and if so, how much support will be paid, depends upon the circumstances. Usually, a party who is self-sufficient or is capable of becoming self-sufficient at the end of a relationship will not usually be entitled to receive spousal support.

In general, the court will take into consideration a variety of factors, including the following

  1. Length of marriage: the longer the marriage, the greater the likelihood is that an application for spousal support will be successful.
  2. Relative difference in income: the greater the difference in income between the parties is at the end of a marriage, the greater the likelihood that an order will follow, awarding spousal support.
  3. Economic disadvantage: The more one spouse has lost as result of the marriage, such as job skills, job opportunities or employability, the greater the likelihood of an order for spousal support. Likewise, the more one party’s earning capacity is reduced because of family obligations (ie. the obligation to rear the children while the spouse works outside the home), the greater the likelihood of an order for spousal support.

After the applicant proves that they are entitled to receive support, the next question is, how much should she get? As a general rule, sum of spousal support is calculated with a view to the disposable income of the paying party and the actual needs of the recipient.

Just because a party receives an order for spousal support of, say $2000 per month, does not mean that the party will continue to receive this sum during her lifetime. Various factors to determine the length of time for which support payments should be made. For persons in long-term relationships, spousal support might be paid permanently. For example, imagine a scenario in which an age 60 female housekeeper raised a family of 5 while her husband worked as a dentist- she may have little ability to start earning income, and in particular, to support herself as her pre-divorce level. She may be entitled to spousal support for the remainder of her life. In contrast, for people in shorter relationships, particularly where the recipient is either working outside the home or capable of working outside the home, support may only be payable for a short, fixed length of time.

There are various ways that an order or agreement for spousal support can deal with the issue of time, including lump sum payments, division of assets, review dates and escalated payments. You can discuss each of these options with your counsel.

Spousal support can be changed. The receiving party may want to change an order or agreement for spousal support if their spousal support payments are going to end but their financial situation has not improved, their financial situation has worsened and they need more support than they did before or something unexpected has happened, like an illness or an accident that causes them to need support. Conversely, the paying party may want to change the sum of spousal support in an order or agreement if their financial situation unexpectedly worsens, the recipient finds work or gets better-paying work/the recipient’s financial situation unexpectedly improves.

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