The Family Law Act defines both married and common-law partners as “spouses” for the purpose of spousal support. A person is a common-law spouse if she has lived with her partner for at least three years or if they are in a steady relationship and have had or adopted a child together.
The goal of spousal support is to encourage the financial independence of both spouses as appropriate in the circumstances of the relationship. For example, where one spouse stayed at home to raise the children or had to change jobs frequently because of demands of the other spouse’s employment, spousal support would be likely.
A number of factors are considered in determining whether spousal support should be paid, how much it should be and for how long it should be paid, including:
- Present and potential earning capacity of both spouses
- Length of marriage or cohabitation
- Roles each spouse played in the marriage
- Roles of each spouse post-separation
- Impact of these roles on each spouse’s ability to generate income
Spousal support can be permanent or for a specified period of time. The amount of support often decreases over time, although in some circumstances it will stay at the same level permanently. An application for spousal support must be started within two years of the date of separation.
Unlike child support, spousal support is taxable income for the person receiving it and is a tax deduction for the person paying it.
Child support is considered to be a higher priority than spousal support, so if someone cannot afford to pay both, they may only have to pay spousal support after their duty to pay child support ends.
There are Spousal Support Guidelines that are similar to the Child Support Guidelines. Unlike the Child Support Guidelines, they provide direction but are not law.
Spousal support orders are enforced through the Family Responsibility Office.