Spousal Support Basics

Author: Calgary Family Lawyer Mat Wirove

A common question we get from clients is: What is spousal support, and how will it affect my future? Spousal support, or what many people call alimony, is a payment from one spouse to the other to recognize the economic advantages and disadvantages arising from the relationship or its breakdown.  The purpose of spousal support is to, as much as possible, promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse or partner within a reasonable time.

In Alberta, spousal support is governed by the Divorce Act for married couples, and the Family Law Act and Adult Independent Partners Act for non-married couples. Often the Alberta Courts use the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines to determine the payments for either married, or non-married couples. 

In determining what spousal support is to be paid, there first must be an analysis of entitlement.  Once the entitlement is found, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines may be applicable. A mere disparity of income will not automatically lead to entitlement.  Some factors that the Court will consider includes:

  1. The condition, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse;
  2. The length of time the parties lived together; and 
  3. The work each spouse performed while they were living together. 

Typically, there are three types of entitlement: contractual, compensatory, and non-compensatory. Contractual covers formal domestic contracts, such as pre-nuptial agreements or implied and informal agreements. A spouse would likely be entitled to some support if there was an agreement between the parties. For example, if one spouse supported the other to achieve their career potential, and the other promised to do the same in return. 

Compensatory spousal support claims are based on the recipient’s economic loss or disadvantage as a result of the roles adopted during the relationship, or the recipient’s conferral of an economic benefit on the payor without adequate compensation.  Some indications that a party may be entitled to compensatory spousal support are staying home with children full-time or part-time, being a “secondary earner”, having primary care of the children after separation, moving for the spousal support payor’s career, or supporting the payor’s education or training.  

Compensatory support is to be distinguished from non-compensatory, which is based upon economic interdependency and loss of standard of living.  Non-compensatory is based on need.  It reflects the economic interdependency that develops as a result of a shared life, and some common markers include the length of the relationship, any economic hardship experienced after separation, or a drop in standard of living for the claimant after separation. 

As mentioned above the purpose of spousal support is to promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse, that means that it is not a payment designed to paid indefinitely in every case. In other words, there is a duration in how long the spousal support is to be paid.  

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines provide two different calculations for what amounts are to be paid in spousal support: the Without Child spousal support formula, and the With Child spousal support formula. 

Quantum in the Without Child spousal support formula is based on the gross income difference between the spouses and the length of the relationship.   It is calculated as between 1.5 to 2 percent of the difference in gross incomes multiplied by the years of the relationship, up to a maximum of 50 percent.  Duration in the Without Child Support formula is calculated as .5 to 1 year for each year of the relationship.  However, it can be indefinite if the marriage is 20 years or longer. 

The With Child spousal support formula is more complicated.  The Courts must determine the individual net disposable income (INDI) of each spouse.  The INDI’s are then added together and the spousal support amounts would be set to leave the lower income recipient with between 40 and 46 percent of the combined INDI.  Duration under this formula is also more fact specific and the range may be calculated as how long it takes the youngest child to  start school and finish high school 

Whether you are a potential recipient or payor of spousal support during a separation the family Lawyers at Crossroads Law can help you understand your future financial consequences of spousal support. 

Legal advice in this area is highly recommended. The family law lawyers at a Crossroads Law are all highly knowledgeable in this area and can be booked for consultations, contact us today.

The information contained in this blog is not legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject. The information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only.