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What do I need to know about spousal support?

By | - October 15, 2018

Steve Benmor is a recognized divorce lawyer, family mediator, arbitrator, speaker, writer and educator. Mr. Benmor has worked as lead counsel in many divorce trials, held many leadership positions in the legal community and has been regularly interviewed on television, radio and in newspapers as an expert in Family Law.

Alimony, maintenance or spousal support, whatever name is used, describes a payment by one spouse to another spouse to help cover living expenses. For some couples who have similar incomes when they separate, often times, no spousal support is paid. Even for those spouses who have a disparity in their incomes, spousal support may also not be paid. All spouses going through divorce need to obtain legal advice and an opinion on whether they are obligated to pay spousal support or are legally entitled to collect spousal support. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this question.

The purpose of spousal support is to compensate the spouse with the lower income for economic sacrifices he or she made during the marriage such as for child birth, ongoing care of children or domestic services and to help a spouse who is in financial need where the other spouse has the ability to pay.

Divorce lawyers are often asked for a black and white answer to the question of spousal support. Unfortunately, the answer to this question requires a legal analysis that is partly based on the history of the family’s spending patterns, incomes, educational and work life, ages of the spouses and a careful analysis of how the marriage, or the divorce, impacted each spouse financially.

Spousal support laws are found both in the federal Divorce Act and in the provincial Family Law Act. Although the laws are very similar, there are nuances that differ.  When lawyers, mediators and judges consider spousal support, they are required to analyze a number of factors that include:

  1. The incomes, financial means and needs of both spouses
  2. the length of the cohabitation and marriage
  3. the roles of each spouse during their marriage
  4. the effect of those roles and the breakdown of the marriage on both spouses’ current financial positions
  5. the care of the children
  6. the goal of encouraging a spouse who receives support to be self-sufficient in a reasonable period of time
  7. any orders, agreements or arrangements already made about spousal support.

If you are considering divorce, or have recently separated, it is advisable for you to seek professional advice from a divorce law specialist on whether you are required to pay spousal support, whether you are entitled to collect spousal support and, most importantly, the amount of spousal support and the length of time it will be paid.

The fourth reason why divorce scares people is its economic impact. It is without doubt that it is more expensive to pay for two homes than one. Divorce does not increase the incomes of the spouses, but it most definitely causes the cost-of-living to spike. As a result, financial fear is a common consequence of divorce.

The fifth reason why divorce scares people is the loss of a social circle.  Neighbours, family, friends and colleagues are all affected by divorce. Many of them do not even know how to relate to the couple during and after divorce. Some relationships are permanently damaged by divorce. Other relationships evolve and survive divorce, often in a different way. But in all cases, divorce most definitely impacts each spouse’s social circle.

People remain in unhealthy marriages for a host of reasons.  The family home, the cost-of-living, social life and the needs of the children are all important considerations for divorce. That is why it is critical that spouses considering divorce consult with their closest friends, family and therapist to work through these fears, understand their true impact and be able to navigate the necessary choices and actions to ensure that all decisions are based on rationale and not on fear.


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