Although commonly referred to as “spousal support” this term is not used in Canada. Rather, Spousal support is the act of one spouse financially assisting another following divorce or separation. This is most common when one spouse has not been working for some time in order to support the household or where there is disparity in the incomes of the spouses. It is different from child support which is paid by one parent to another for their children.   It is important to note that although spousal support and child support are two separate orders, both can be payable at the same time.

Alberta is the only province in Canada which has spousal support guidelines, but spousal support can be determined upon application by the Court, which takes into account such factors such as spousal income and spousal resources.

Spousal Support isn’t based on splitting up matrimonial property, but rather the need of one spouse to continue to live at a reasonable standard of living.  Spousal Support can be ordered as part of a divorce or as a separate order. Upon application, the Court will determine spousal support based on the income, resources and contribution of each spouse.

Both the Divorce Act (Canada) and the Family Law Act discuss the purposes of a spousal support order. The objectives are to recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses coming out of the marriage or occurring because the marriage has ended, to divide up any financial costs arising from the care of the children over and above the child support, to lessen any financial hardship of the spouses which may have taken place because of the end of the marriage, and, as much as possible to encourage the spouses to become able to support themselves within a reasonable period of time.

Both statutes stipulate that any spousal support order is not intended to punish a spouse for bad behaviour or to reward a spouse for good behaviour.

Spousal support may be paid in one lump sum, but it is typically paid on a monthly basis.  Support is ordered by a family court judge or agreed upon by the parties, taking into account many different factors.  It may also be ordered for a fixed period of time, or it may continue indefinitely until circumstances of the parties have changed.

In most cases, when spousal support is paid on a periodic basis (i.e. monthly or annually rather than in a lump sum), the person receiving the spousal support will claim it as income on their income tax return. The person paying the spousal support will claim the amount paid as a deduction. If you want to know whether spousal support is taxable in your case, you should talk to an accountant.

A change in either spouse’s financial situation would likely warrant an amended or varied order. Either party can apply to change a spousal support order if there is a change in the condition, means or other circumstances of either of the parties. However, if the spousal support order has a clause that says that support is to end at a specific date, and the party receiving the support wishes to extend it, the Divorce Act says that the party applying must also prove that the variation order is needed to relieve economic hardship, the economic hardship arose from the change in circumstances, the economic hardship and/or the change in circumstances are related in some way to the marriage, and if the parties had known that the change in circumstances would occur at the time they entered into the previous spousal support order, that order would have been different from what it was.

The issue of spousal support varies and is specific to each circumstance. To discuss the potential for support or if you have questions or concerns, contact our family lawyers today.