Spousal support may be awarded when married couples or common law partners separate in Alberta — to aid the transition to financial self-sufficiency.
While periods vary for spousal support, it’s important for the payor to honour the agreement until the expiry date (usually, there is one in all but the longest marriages) or until a specific event ends the agreement (such as a remarriage).
In some cases, a modification or termination of spousal support must be sought due to a change of circumstances that does not automatically end the agreement. To arrange this, an application to the Alberta courts must be made.
Simply not paying support is likely to land you in trouble so it’s important to abide by the legal processes to terminate a support agreement in Alberta
Learn More → Maintenance Enforcement Program in Alberta
What is spousal support?
Spousal support is sometimes still called “alimony”, especially in the U.S. It is a payment from a higher earning spouse or common-law partner to a lower earning spouse or common-law partner to aid then transition to an independent life after separation.
The authorities in Alberta want to avoid separated spouses being cast into financial hardship and spousal support is a way of assuring a degree of financial assistance until the individual can support his/herself (within a reasonable timeframe).
When does spousal support usually end in Alberta?
There is no set period for spousal support after a marriage or adult interdependent relationship ends in Alberta.
In the absence of a spousal support agreement made between separating spouses, the judge will decide how much support must be paid and for how long. Many factors will be considered when the court decides this but the most important factor for deciding when support ends is the length of the marriage or common-law relationship.
How long it is paid generally depends on the length of the marriage and other specific circumstances, but some general rules are as follows:
- It always ends when the recipient of support dies
- It may not end when the payor of support dies if there is life insurance or assets like RRSPs that can continue paying the support
- It may end when the recipient marries or cohabits with someone else – but this is not automatic
- It may end when the payor retires, but this is not automatic
Some spousal support orders or agreements specify an event or date that will trigger the end of support, e.g., when the recipient marries or the payor retires.
If not, then indefinite spousal support has been awarded. That does not mean that it cannot end, but there must either be an agreement between you and your ex-spouse to this effect or a judge will need to decide.
Sometimes, too, there is a review date on a support order, which conveniently opens the door to a modification or termination of support.
Why Might Spousal Support be Awarded Indefinitely?
In some cases, a court may award indefinite spousal support rather than setting a specific duration. While the term “indefinite” implies that the support will carry on forever, this is not always the case.
In some situations, a judge may simply determine that it is more appropriate to leave the term of support open-ended to allow for greater flexibility. An indefinite support award may still be varied or terminated in the future if the situation calls for it.
There are two specific situations that most commonly prompt an award of indefinite support:
- Rule of 20: refers to a marriage or adult interdependent partnership that lasted for 20 years or longer.
- Rule of 65: refers to a situation in which the length of the marriage or partnership plus the age of the support recipient equals 65 or greater (age can have a significant impact on a person’s earning ability and the duration of time that they require support).
Even in cases where indefinite support is ordered, it is generally understood that support will end once the payor reaches retirement age or that the amount of support will be varied considerably once the payor and/or the recipient begins receiving pension income.
What Might Trigger an Early Termination of Spousal Support?
Whether support has been awarded for a specific duration or indefinitely, there are certain circumstances which may prompt a variation or termination of support. To successfully apply to a court for a termination of spousal support, the new circumstances must be considered a material change. Examples of a material change in circumstances include:
- The support recipient remarries or begins a new adult interdependent relationship, reducing their need for financial support.
- The support payor has a long-term change in earning ability, including retirement, illness, or injury.
- The recipient has a change in financial status, such as a salary increase or receipt of an inheritance, enabling them to become self-sufficient.
How can you terminate spousal support early?
While courts in Alberta will not consider a change or termination of spousal support for a trivial reason, they will usually agree to re-assess the situation if there is a major, material change in circumstances to warrant it.
Here’s how you can attempt to terminate support in four steps.
CHECK YOUR SPOUSAL SUPPORT AGREEMENT
Check to see if your spousal support order or the separation agreement you signed with your ex-spouse specifies when the support comes to an end, or if there is a review date.
Most commonly, it will state that a specific event like remarriage of the recipient or graduation from college will end support.
ASSESS WHETHER THERE HAS BEEN A MATERIAL CHANGE TO YOUR SITUATION
Before going any further, assess whether your change in circumstances constitutes a material and significant enough change for the court to consider your case. You may need legal advice to assess this.
After all, you will be asking the court to change an order that it has already made after reviewing all the evidence.
Unless you can show the court new evidence that your situation has changed so much that the present order is untenable, it will not be terminated.
Examples may include:
- The payor lost his or her job and has not been able to find new employment
- The recipient moved in with another partner who is now providing support
- The recipient was promoted and no longer needs spousal support
- The recipient is now self-supporting because of another financial “boost”
There have been significant changes relating to the care of the children
DISCUSS THE SITUATION WITH YOUR PARTNER
If you and your ex-spouse are on reasonable terms, it’s best to discuss the situation and come to an amicable agreement to end it.
This can be done face-to-face, with legal counsel present, or through a mediator. Ideally, you reach an agreement and make a new spousal support agreement between you that can be ratified by the court.
If spousal support was decided in your final court order when you were divorced, and you and your partner consent to end it, you must submit the documents proving this and seek a new court order.
APPLY TO THE COURT TO TERMINATE SPOUSAL SUPPORT
To begin court action to terminate spousal support, you will need to file a motion to change with your local family court. This usually requires legal assistance.
You will need to explain to a judge why you think spousal support should end based on a significant change of circumstances, such as those outlined above.
A seasoned family lawyer should be able to advise you on whether you have a case and may be able to help you make a more persuasive argument to terminate support.
How is spousal support calculated in Alberta?
Spousal support is provided by the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse.
Judges can refer to advisory guidelines from Canada’s Department of Justice when ordering spousal support but can exercise a great degree of discretion. As such, they will generally consider the following factors:
- The marriage length
- The financial needs and means of both spouses
- The roles played by each spouse during the marriage e.g., main earner/homemaker – and the financial implications of these roles
- If there are children from the relationship that need caring for
- If there are any orders or agreements already in place for spousal support
If you need help with an adult interdependent partner agreement or any family law matter in Alberta, speak to a lawyer from Spectrum Family Law. Contact us to schedule a consultation.
We currently have three offices across Alberta — Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer. We serve the entire province of Alberta (and BC). We also have the infrastructure to work with any of our clients virtually — even the furthest regions of Alberta.
We also have a dedicated intake form to help you get the ball rolling. Our intake team will review your specific case and advise you on the next steps to take as well as what to expect moving forward. That’s the best way to schedule an appointment
Our offices are generally open 8:30 a.m.—4:30 p.m., Mon—Fri.
Dustin has zealously advocated for his clients at all levels of court in Alberta. Dustin has extensive civil litigation experience, as well as a background in family and divorce law.