Legal Studies 1030

Section 1 - the Law and relationships

Lesson 8 - Spousal Support after Divorce

Couples who separate often encounter financial problems. This is especially true when one spouse is economically dependent on the other during the marriage. Spousal support or maintenance (formerly called alimony) is intended to compensate one spouse for any financial losses suffered because of the marriage breakdown. Maintenance is money paid by one spouse to another after a marriage breakdown. It is not automatic; the spouse in need must apply for support.

Although support rights and responsibilities differ from province to province, the principles are similar. The two main elements to consider are:

  • the needs of the spouse requiring support; and
  • the ability of the other spouse to pay.

The federal Divorce Act and provincial and territorial laws guide judges in determining if support should be awarded and if so, how much. The following outlines the key factors judges consider when determining support:

  1. Assets and income of each spouse, including present and future earning ability.
  2. Ability of each spouse to be self-supporting.
  3. Ability of each spouse to provide support to the other spouse, if necessary.
  4. Age and physical and mental health of each spouse.
  5. Length of time the spouses were married or lived together.
  6. Length of time one spouse spent at home raising the family instead of contributing financially by working outside the home.

Spousal support is often limited to a short period for short-term relationships with no children, or when a couple is young. Courts usually do not limit the time for spousal support for longer relationships, or for those where there are children. This does not mean that spousal support will go on forever. It just means that courts do not want to guess at what someone's financial situation will be in the future. If one's financial situation greatly changes, one can always go back to court and end spousal support or change the amount.

Either party can apply to the court to have the spousal support order increased, decreased, or stopped if circumstances change, such as changes in salary, remarriage, unemployment, or health.
In the next section, we will focus on the law and how it relates to the best interests of the children.