Frequently Asked Questions about Spousal Support

It is an emotional time when a relationship ends. Your financial position could be uncertain and stress levels could rise. You may be wondering if you are entitled to spousal support and, if so, how much. If you are entitled, spousal support (sometimes referred to as alimony outside the court) will be based on a number of factors, including how long you and your spouse resided together, your career paths, and the need for support based on the degree of financial dependency you have on your partner. If your partner’s success in his or her employment is due in part to you giving something up in the relationship, then support is given to compensate you for making sacrifices. You may have supported your spouse so he or she could attend school, obtain a profession, or develop a career in a new jurisdiction. Or, you may have sacrificed your career to stay home and care for the children.

There are many questions you may have for a family law lawyer. Some of the more frequently asked questions at our law firm in St. John’s about spousal support are answered here.

Can I get support because of my spouse’s misconduct?

No. Canada has no-fault divorce law. This means that the reasons why a marriage ended will not affect one spouse's legal obligation to support the other following a divorce.

How is spousal support entitlement decided?

In deciding if an individual is entitled to spousal support, a judge must consider a variety of factors, including:

  • The financial means and needs of both spouses;
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The roles of each spouse during their marriage;
  • The effect of those roles and the breakdown of the marriage on both spouses' current financial positions;
  • The care of the children;
  • The goal of encouraging a spouse who receives support to become self-sufficient in a reasonable period of time; and
  • Any orders, agreements or arrangements already made about spousal support (e.g., prenuptial agreements or marriage contracts).
A judge must also consider whether awarding spousal support would meet the following purposes:
  • To compensate the spouse with the lower income for making sacrifices during the marriage;
  • To compensate the spouse with the lower income for ongoing care of children; or
  • To assist a spouse who is in financial need if the other spouse has the ability to pay.

Simultaneously, a judge must also consider that the law encourages every individual to work towards becoming economically self-sufficient, where possible, within a reasonable period of time.

When might I not get spousal support?

Spousal support is not always agreed to or awarded by a court. For example, it may not be awarded to you if you are self-supportive, maintained your career throughout your relationship or if your income is the same as, or more than, that of your spouse. Support might also not be provided if you have a lower income but also have significant or income-generating assets or if the marriage was of short duration.

Will the amount of support be based on the lifestyle I was accustomed to in the marriage?

Not realistically. Since the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs) were introduced in 2008, they have been regularly used by judges and lawyers to determine support. Because there is some discretion in the amount of support and because the guidelines are not part of any legislation, it may still be helpful to prepare a financial statement and a budget of your ordinary expenses (including your children’s expenses if you have children living with you) to show your need for support.

What are the SSAGs?

The SSAGs are not law but are predictable and consistent calculations of spousal support that suggest appropriate ranges in a variety of situations. Once a judge decides to award support, he or she will usually rely on the SSAGs when deciding how much support to award and for what length of time. Judges may be less inclined to follow these calculations, however, when income levels exceed $150,000 annually.

Will I still get spousal support if I get child support?

Usually yes, but not always. You may get both spousal and child support but the SSAGs provide for less spousal support if you also qualify for child support. While both parents have an obligation to support their children, the courts will consider the effect that spousal support obligations would have on a spouse who pays child support. The Divorce Act requires that priority be given to paying child support.

Can I still get spousal support if I wasn’t married but lived common-law?

Yes, however you would still need to prove that you are entitled to the support. The rules on spousal support can be found in the Family Law Act in Newfoundland for both common law couples and married couples who are separating but not divorcing.

How long can I expect to get spousal support?

The duration of support depends on many factors however for long-term marriages there may be no specified end date especially if the recipient has been out of the workforce for some time and is deemed to be unlikely to be able to support himself or herself in the future before retirement. An unforeseen material change in circumstances in either party’s circumstances however, could lead to a termination of support or a change in the amount of support being paid (e.g., the payor lacks the ability to pay as a result of disability or being laid off).

Can I still get spousal support if I get divorced?

Yes. The federal Divorce Act sets out the spousal support rules for married couples who divorce.

Does spousal support terminate if I enter a new relationship resembling marriage or I get remarried?

It depends on the specific facts of the case, the reason for the entitlement to support and what is negotiated if there is a separation agreement. You will not necessarily be barred from receiving support because you move in with a new partner, but remarriage may ultimately lead to a reduction or termination of support if your new spouse takes over the role of financially supporting you.

The effect of remarriage on needs-based support is more significant than in the case of compensatory or contractually based support. If support is provided to compensate a spouse for what he or she sacrificed during a marriage, then a remarriage does not invalidate the compensation.

Contact Gittens & Associates with your questions surrounding spousal support

Our family law lawyers who specialize in spousal support in Newfoundland can answer any further questions you may have about spousal support or other areas of family law. Upon obtaining some background information, we can also provide you with a range and average duration of spousal support that can be anticipated in your situation. We have tremendous experience and our lawyers are highly skilled in negotiating agreements. We can work towards a resolution of outstanding issues. Contact us at 1-888-592-7171.

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