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What goes into determining spousal support?

Receiving financial maintenance after divorce can be critical to someone who was financially dependent on their spouse. Spousal support (a.k.a. “Alimony”) can also ensure a divorce does not financially devastate one person more than the other.  (But don’t tell that to support payors!)

In other words, there can be a lot at stake when it comes to assessing if and for how long orders for support should be in place. Therefore, it can help to know what to expect when it comes to determining spousal support.

Weighing the need for support

When there is a request for spousal support, we are obliged to consider many factors including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • Each person’s age and health
  • Each person’s income
  • The recipient’s reasonable needs versus the payor’s ability to pay
  • The marital contributions and roles played during the relationship (economic, child care, career development)
  • Professional sacrifices that the receiving party made during a marriage
  • The standard of living during the marriage
  • The economic effects of separation and divorce
  • and much more.

These and other relevant factors will determine if a person is entitled to support.  These factors may also influence the amount and duration of spousal support.

Designing the support order

There is no fixed arrangement for spousal support payments in Ontario. Parties can tailor a spousal support order to the individuals by working out amounts and determining duration. And the same factors that dictate whether there is a need for support also influence the details of the order.

Calculating spousal support is not a standardized process. However, there are guidelines to follow, like the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG). The SSAG utilizes formulas that take into account:

  • Income levels
  • Duration of marriage
  • Number of children and their ages
  • Parties’ ages at the separation date
  • Tax treatments

These guidelines help divorcing spouses understand the potential amount and duration of the spousal support obligation.  The SSAG does not determine entitlement.  

One way to individualize a spousal support order is to change the duration of payments. For instance, a party might make smaller monthly payments over a longer period of time or agree to a lump-sum payment. 

Three types of spousal support 

There are three types or theories of spousal support: (1) Contractual;  (2) Compensatory;  and, (3) Means and Needs

Compensatory spousal support might be ordered even if there is no immediate need.  Means and Needs spousal support might be ordered even if nobody gave up any opportunities during the marriage.  It pays to consult a family law lawyer in order to start to determine just what the extent of rights and responsibilities might be.

It can be frustrating that there is no precise formula to calculate entitlement for spousal support, but having the ability to adjust amounts and duration on a case-by-case basis ensures parties can create an order that is fair for both sides. 

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