What is spousal support?

Spousal support payments are made by one spouse to the other after separation or divorce. Spousal support is available to married couples and unmarried common law couples. There are different ways to pay spousal support such as through a one-time lump sum payment or on a monthly basis.

The main goals of spousal support are to:

  • Relieve any economic advantages or financial hardship a spouse may experience due to the breakdown of the relationship and to promote the self-sufficiency of each spouse
  • Share the childcare financial responsibilities
  • Promote the self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time

Entitlement to Spousal Support


Who is entitled to spousal support?

Unlike child support, there is no automatic requirement for spousal support to be paid. The spouse seeking spousal support must prove they are entitled to it. In general, spouses are entitled to spousal support when they are financially disadvantaged as a result of the relationship or at the end of the relationship as compared to the other spouse.

In order for spousal support to be awarded, it must be demonstrated that there is a financial need on behalf of the spouse seeking spousal support and that the other spouse has the financial ability to provide it.

Entitlement to spousal support is based on the particular circumstances of the spouses and their relationship in consideration of the following factors:

  • “Needs based support” ensures that one spouse’s needs are met. For example, to assist a low-earning ex-spouse to meet their living expenses while they transition out of the relationship and to assist in maintaining the standard of living enjoyed during the relationship after separation
  • “Compensatory support” ensures that one spouse is compensated for the personal, professional and financial impacts of separation. This type of support may be appropriate, for example, when a couple decided during the relationship that one spouse would forego education or career advancement in order to raise their children in sacrifice to the other spouse who then pursues this.

Calculating the Amount and Duration of Spousal Support


How do you calculate the amount of spousal support payable?

Once you prove you are entitled to spousal support, the next consideration is the amount payable. The federal Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines provide direction for the amount and duration of spousal support payable.

The amount and duration of spousal support will take into consideration several factors such as:

  • The length of the relationship from date of cohabitation to the date of separation
  • The difference in incomes between the spouses
  • Any other types of economic differences between the spouses
  • The individual earning capacity of the spouses
  • Is the length of the relationship important to spousal support?

One of the main factors in determining the amount and duration of spousal support is the length of the relationship. Longer relationships generally require spousal support to be paid permanently or until retirement. Shorter relationships generally require spousal support to be payable for a shorter fixed period of time. Similarly, the greater the income difference or the greater the career sacrifices of one spouse during the relationship, the more the spousal support may be.

Changing Spousal Support


Can you make changes to spousal support?

The amount and duration of spousal support can be changed if there has been a change in circumstances since the time the initial agreement was made. Most commonly, variations to spousal support are made when there has been a change in financial circumstances or where the spouse receiving spousal support begins a new common law relationship or remarries.