Under both the Divorce Act and The Family Maintenance Act one spouse may be required to pay support for their spouse. This support is sometimes referred to as spousal maintenance. The provisions of the Divorce Act apply to married couples, while the provisions of The Family Maintenance Act apply to married couples and couples who have lived together as spouses continuously for at least two years or are in a relationship of some permanence and are the parents of a child.
The court forms on this site dealing with spousal support and the legal information in this section apply only to spouses as defined under the Divorce Act and The Family Maintenance Act. Unmarried individuals who have lived together less than two years and have no children together may still have rights and obligations toward each other as a result of the relationship. However, the law that applies in these situations is far less clear and varies depending on the individual circumstances. These individuals may wish to seek the advice of a lawyer to help determine their rights and obligations.
Spouses may agree on the issue of spousal support or the court may be asked to decide the matter. A spouse can ask the court for a spousal support order alone or along with other orders dealing with matters such as custody, access, division of family property or divorce. If a court is considering an application for child support and an application for spousal support, the court will give priority to the child support application. This doesn’t mean that a court won’t order both child and spousal support, it simply means that the duty to pay child support comes first.
Factors the Court Considers
There is no automatic right to spousal support. The need for support and the ability to pay support are important factors. When deciding whether a spousal support order is appropriate, and if so, determining the amount, courts will consider factors such as…
- the financial means, needs and circumstances of each spouse
- the length of the spousal relationship
- the role each spouse had during the relationship and the effect on each spouse’s financial position
- any court order or agreement regarding child or spousal support
* If you have an agreement for spousal support and are now seeking a court order for spousal support there are some important considerations. For more information see Changing an Agreement
Spousal support orders should acknowledge the financial advantages and disadvantages arising from the relationship or its breakdown and relieve related economic hardship. Orders should also promote economic self-sufficiency in so far as it is practical. Sometimes, particularly when the relationship was relatively short and the parties’ incomes are roughly equal, these objectives will have been met through the division of family property without the need for a spousal support order.
Based on the factors discussed above, courts tend to look at spousal support orders in one of two ways. The first is on the basis of needs and means, where the court considers how much money the spouse asking for support needs and how much the other spouse can afford. The second is on the basis of compensation, where the court looks at whether the spouse asking for support should be compensated for career opportunities they may have lost due to household and child-rearing duties. The court may also consider the other spouse’s improved ability to earn an income because they had fewer household and child-related duties in the relationship.
Spousal misconduct is not a basis for spousal support and it will not be ordered or denied just because one spouse committed adultery or behaved in a cruel fashion. In some instances spousal misconduct could have financial consequences and could then be considered by the court. See Spousal Support and Abuse for more information.
Determining the Amount
Spousal support amounts may vary widely based on many of the same factors used to determine whether a support order is appropriate in the first place. There are, however, spousal support advisory guidelines (SSAG) in place that may help the court or parties themselves to simplify the determination or at least provide an appropriate starting point. Unlike the Child Support Guidelines, spousal support guidelines are advisory only, not mandatory. They include formulas that use factors such as whether there are children of the relationship, the income of both spouses and the length of the relationship to calculate the amount of spousal support.
The guidelines will not help determine whether a spouse is entitled to spousal support. They are intended to provide a starting point to help determine the amount once entitlement has been established by the court or agreed to by the spouses. The calculations in the spousal support guidelines are quite complicated and factor in income tax implications. In most cases special software is required to do the calculations. It is important to establish entitlement to spousal support before going ahead and attempting to come up with an amount using the guidelines. The overview set out below will give you a very general idea of how the guidelines work only and is not intended to allow you to do any calculations yourself.
The Without Child Formula
This formula is used for couples who do not have children or whose children are now grown. In very general terms, between 1.5% and 2% of the difference between the spouse’s before-tax income is multiplied by the number of years the couple has been together, up to a maximum of 50%. Relationships of 25 years or more are capped at between 37-50%.
The With Child Formula
This formula looks at the net disposable income of each spouse in order to leave the lower-income spouse with between 40-46% of their combined net disposable income. The calculations are complex, taking into account taxes, deductions, and children’s costs, and vary depending on custody arrangements. Special software is required to complete the calculations using the with child formula.
Determining the Duration
Spousal support may be paid in a lump sum or as periodic payments. Periodic payments can be ordered or agreed to for an indefinite period of time (no end date) or a definite period of time (such as three years), or until a specified event occurs (such as full-time employment). When a court is asked to decide the duration of spousal support they will consider a number of factors that could affect the receiving spouse’s ability to become self-supporting. These factors may include things like the spouse’s age, health, educational background, and the age of children still at home. Generally speaking, spouses leaving long-term relationships later in life will receive support for longer, if not indefinitely, than a younger spouse leaving a relationship of a shorter duration.
The advisory guidelines for spousal support can also be used to help determine a range for the duration of spousal support.
The Without Child Formula
In very general terms, the duration for spousal support using the without child formula ranges from .5 to 1 year for each year of the marriage or spousal relationship. However, under the advisory guidelines the duration will be indefinite if the relationship lasted 20 or more years or if the age of the receiving spouse plus the length of the relationship equals 65 or more.
The With Child Formula
Using the with child formula is somewhat less straightforward. At the lower end of the range the suggested duration is generally the longer of (a) ½ the length of the marriage or (b) the date when the youngest child starts school full-time. At the upper-end of the range the suggested duration is generally the longer of (a) the length of the marriage or (b) the date when the youngest child finishes high school.
Spousal support that is paid periodically is taxable income to the spouse receiving it and is tax-deductible for the spouse paying it. The spouse receiving spousal support must claim the support received as taxable income. Court orders or written agreements dealing with spousal support must be registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
In order for the paying spouse to claim a tax deduction, the spousal support order or agreement must clearly indicate that the payments are for spousal support and are to be made periodically. If this distinction is not clear the support payments will be treated as child support for tax purposes, meaning that the payments are not tax deductible for the paying spouse and not taxable for the spouse receiving the payments.
It is also important to note that a spouse who must make child support payments and spousal support payments cannot claim a deduction for the spousal support payments unless they are up-to-date on all child support payments.
Spousal support that is paid as a lump sum is not taxable for the spouse receiving it nor is it tax-deductible for the spouse paying it.
It is important to ensure that agreements and court orders take these tax implications into account so that each party understands their support payments and can avoid unexpected surprises at tax time.
The court can order spousal support to be paid during the time between when a family law court case is first heard and the point at which the court makes its final decision. When an interim order for spousal support is requested courts tend to focus on only the means and needs of the parties. Simply put this means that the courts generally only consider whether the party making the interim application has a need for support and whether the other party has the ability to pay it. However, when a court is asked to determine entitlement in the context of a final order for spousal support, the court must consider all the factors discussed earlier and may make a final order that is different than the interim order.
The advisory guidelines provide some modifications for interim orders and can be a useful tool in determining a temporary amount without having the parties’ complete financial picture and without the need to prepare budgets or compare current expenses with future anticipated expenses.