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The Basics of Spousal Support
Spousal support rights and obligations can apply to both married and common law couples. In a common law relationship, a party may have a right to spousal support if:
a) They have a child or children together; or,
b) They have been cohabiting for a period of more than three years.
According to section 15.2(6) the Divorce Act, spousal support awards should:
a) Recognize any economic disadvantages or advantages to the spouses arising from the marriage or its subsequent breakdown;
b) Apportion between the spouses any financial consequences that have arisen from caring for any child of the marriage in excess of any obligation for the support of any child of the marriage;
c) Relieve any economic hardship borne by the spouses, which arises from the breakdown of the marriage; and,
d) In so far as is practicable, promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse in a reasonable period of time.
While adults are expected to take care of themselves and become self sufficient following the breakdown of a relationship, there are often factors and consequences of the relationship which may leave one party at an economic disadvantage. For example, where one party forgoes career opportunities or advancements in education in order to maintain the home and be a stay-at-home parent, they may serious impediments to their future financial self sufficiency.
Generally, if one spouse is unable to support himself or herself or if there is a significant difference between the income of the parties, the lower-earning spouse may have a claim for spousal support from the higher-earning spouse. Subject to any agreement between the parties, based on current case law a spouse who is not able to maintain a standard of living commensurate to the accustomed lifestyle upon the breakdown of marriage is likely entitled to support. Although the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, commonly referred to as the ‘SSAG’, are not mandatory, they are often considered by judges in cases involving claims for spousal support.
The duration and quantum of spousal support is dependent on many factors, including but not limited to:
a) The length of the marriage;
b) The age and health of the recipient on the date of separation;
c) The effects of the relationship on the recipient’s career and education opportunities; and,
d) The employability of the lower-earning spouse.