What is spousal support?
Spousal support is money paid by one spouse to the other after they separate or divorce. Spousal support is almost always paid by the spouse with the higher income to the spouse with the lower income. The gender of the spouses does not matter.
Who can get spousal support?
Both married and unmarried (common-law) spouses may be able to get spousal support, or may have to pay spousal support. If the spouses are not married, they must have lived together as a couple:
- for at least 3 years, or
- or any length of time if they were in a relationship of “some permanence” and had a child together.
What is spousal support for?
The purpose of spousal support is to:
- recognize a spouse’s contributions to the relationship
- share the financial costs of caring for a child
- relieve financial hardship
- help a spouse become able to contribute to his or her own support
- correct any economic advantage or disadvantage to a spouse caused by the relationship or the relationship breakdown. For example, if a spouse gave up their job to care for the children, they may not be able to become self-supporting right away.
In most situations, spouses are expected to try to become self-supporting as soon as possible.
How do you get spousal support?
Spousal support can be negotiated and agreed on by the spouses and written into a separation agreement. This is often done along with other issues such as child support, parenting arrangements (custody and access), and property division. Lawyers and mediators can help the spouses reach an agreement. But if the spouses cannot agree, a judge or arbitrator can decide.
How do judges decide on spousal support?
A judge may decide that one spouse must pay support because of their ability to pay and the other spouse’s financial need. Or the reason may be to compensate the other spouse for unpaid work that he or she did during the relationship.
If the judge decides there should be spousal support, the judge must then decide the amount of support and for how long it must be paid. The judge will take into account things such as:
- the length of the relationship,
- whether there are children and what arrangements have been made for them,
- the roles the spouses played during the relationship,
- the age of each spouse, and
- each spouse’s financial situation.
The judge may also consider the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs).
How can I calculate what spousal support may be?
The process for calculating spousal support is very complex and is done with special software that is used by lawyers and judges. This software has only recently become available to the public. Now you can go online and use the calculator at:
This website can do only simple calculations, and takes into account only employment income. So it is usually best to consult a lawyer to be sure you have considered everything and fully understand your spousal support rights or obligations.
How long does spousal support payments continue for?
Some agreements or orders set a date when support payments will end, and some do not. If no end date is set, support continues unless the agreement or order is changed. Spousal support does not automatically end if the recipient spouse remarries or starts living with someone.
How can a support agreement be changed?
If both spouses agree, they can make a change to the agreement or make a new agreement. The changed agreement or new agreement must be dated, signed by both spouses, and signed by a witness. It should be filed with the court where the original agreement was filed.
If the spouses cannot agree about changing the agreement, then either spouse can go to court and ask the court to make an order about support.
How can a support order be changed?
A court order can also be changed, but only by the court. Either spouse can ask the court that made the original order to change it. Unless the other spouse agrees, the court will do this only if there has been a significant change in circumstances. For example, if:
- the payor’s or recipient’s income has gone up or down,
- the arrangements about the children have changed, or
- the judge thinks that the recipient should now be self-supporting.
Mediation and Spousal Support
If you are heading into mediation and believe spousal support may be one of the matters being mediated you are strongly advised to get independent legal advice regarding your rights and obligations. It is important to get legal advice on any topic where you may be uncertain of the law and your rights. Mediators can provide you with directions on where to get information but are a neutral participant in mediation and cannot provide legal advice.