What is Spousal Support?
Spousal support (or alimony) in BC is a periodic or one-time payment from one spouse to another. The entitlement to spousal support arises under section 160 of the Family Law Act (the “FLA”). The court will consider the factors set out in section 161 of the FLA in deciding whether spousal support is appropriate in any given case. Section 162 of the FLA sets out the factors that affect the amount of alimony to be paid and the length of time spousal support payments will continue.
Purpose of Spousal Support and Entitlement to Spousal Support
Spousal support serves four purposes (FLA s. 161):
- to recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the relationship between the spouses or the breakdown of that relationship;
- to apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of their child, beyond the duty to provide support for the child;
- to relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the relationship between the spouses; and
- as far as practicable, to promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.
Therefore, the reasons behind a spouse’s entitlement to alimony fall under three general categories. First, the law wants to recognize each spouse’s contribution to a marriage (or long-term relationship), regardless of whether that spouse was the main breadwinner of the family or if the spouse sacrificed their career to spend more time doing unpaid work such as childcare or housework. This ground for justifying spousal support is called the compensatory ground.
Second, the law does not want a couple’s separation to cause poverty and increase the drain on the government’s social services. This is called the non-compensatory ground and is based on a spouse’s need.
The third and final ground for an award of support is the contractual ground, which exists if there is an entitlement to spousal support included in a cohabitation, prenuptial, marriage, or separation agreement.
Example of Spousal Support Considerations
For example, there is a good argument spousal support is not justified in a relationship where both spouses worked full-time, shared household tasks equally, had similar incomes before and after separation, did not have any children, and were together for less than three years. However, the argument becomes weaker if one of the spouses earns significantly less than the other spouse but is not used to having a higher standard of living due to their spouse’s higher income.
In any given case, there are factors that justify the payment of spousal support and factors that advocate against any such payment. The judge presiding over the case will weigh those factors and decide whether or not spousal support is payable.
What if Spousal Support is Payable?
If the court decides that alimony is payable, the next step is to determine the amount and how long it must be paid for. Section 162 of the Family Law Act sets out the factors to be considered in deciding the amount of spousal support and the length of time it must be paid for:
- conditions, needs, and other circumstances of each spouse;
- the length of time the spouses lived together;
- the functions performed by each spouse during the period they lived together; and
- an agreement between the spouses, or an order, relating to the support of either spouse.
The court considers the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAGs”) in deciding the amount of alimony to grant. The SSAGs give a range of numbers regarding how much support is payable and how long support should be paid for. The British Columbia Court of Appeal has suggested that an award that is a lot higher or lower than the numbers in the SSAGs could be grounds for appeal of a decision of a lower court (Redpath v. Redpath,2006 BCCA 338).
The SSAGs include two separate formulas, one for the situation where the support payor is also paying child support and the other for when there is no child support to consider. The SSAGs are applicable to individuals with more than $20,000 of income but less than $350,000 of total income.
The following steps should be followed in calculating spousal support based on SSAGs:
- Determine income for spousal support purposes: this can be simple in case of individuals who are employees or complicated in case of individuals who are self-employed or owners and controllers of a corporate business.
- Select the correct SSAG formula: this will depend on the number of children of the marriage, their ages and other circumstances, and the parenting arrangements.
- Calculate a range of payable support amount and support duration using the correct formula.
- Considering the spouse’s circumstances, determine where in the range spousal support should fall.
- Consider whether increasing or decreasing the duration and a corresponding change of the amount is a good choice.
- If, when considering the ranges and restructuring options available, the SSAGs amount is not appropriate for the case, consider whether the exceptions set out in chapter 12 of the SSAGs are applicable.
If you are in a dispute over spousal support, retaining a knowledgeable family lawyer can help you argue the entitlement to spousal support, the amount payable, and the length of time that support should be paid. A lawyer can also assist you in negotiating an acceptable settlement to reduce legal expenses and time spent pursuing a court case.
If you are in a family law dispute and looking for a lawyer, contact Pax Law’s Amir Ghorbani today.
The amount of alimony depends on whether there are children of the marriage for whom child support is being paid, the incomes of both parties, the length of the marriage, and other circumstances of the parties. It is calculated using the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines in most cases.