Spousal support (commonly referred to as alimony) is often a concern for parties who are going through a separation and divorce. Spousal support can have a significant financial impact on payors and recipients alike.
If you are facing the issue of spousal support, regardless of whether you are the payor or the recipient, it is essential that you find a lawyer who understands the intricacies of the law surrounding spousal support in Alberta to assist you.
At Spectrum Family Law, we appreciate the impact that your spousal support rights or obligations can have on your financial future, and we are committed to protecting our clients’ interests.
The obligation to financially support one another can arise between married and unmarried spouses. For unmarried spouses, cohabiting with someone for three years or more, or having a child with that person can give rise to a spousal support obligation. It is important to keep in mind that even though spouses may choose to terminate their relationship with one another, their financial obligations to one another may continue.
The entitlement to as well as the quantum and duration of spousal support are determined by the courts on a discretionary basis. This means that the court looks at certain criteria in each case to determine whether a spouse is entitled to receive spousal support and if so, how much and for how long.
Learn More → Reasons Why You Need to Hire a Family Law Lawyer
The criteria that the courts take into account generally include:
- whether or not the recipient needs the support;
- whether the payor has the ability to pay the support;
- as well as certain aspects of the relationship which have had an effect on each spouse’s earning ability.
What is spousal support in Alberta?
In Alberta, spousal support, also known as alimony, refers to financial support paid by one spouse or partner to the other after a separation or divorce. It is intended to help the recipient maintain a similar standard of living to what they had during the relationship, particularly if they are financially disadvantaged or have been out of the workforce for an extended period.
Spousal support is not automatic and is determined on a case-by-case basis. Factors that are considered when determining spousal support include the length of the relationship, the income and earning potential of each spouse, the financial needs and obligations of each party, and any agreements that were made during the relationship or separation.
Spousal support can be awarded on a temporary or permanent basis, and can be varied or terminated in certain circumstances, such as changes in income or living arrangements.
Who is eligible for spousal support in Alberta?
According to the former, the purpose of spousal support is to address the following:
- Recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the marriage or its breakdown
- Apportion any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage between the spouses
- Relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the marriage
- Promote the self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period
If spouses separate in Alberta, spousal support is likely to be awarded if the separation results in a significant financial imbalance between the parties based on the above four factors.
The Family Law Act of Alberta allows non-married spouses in a common-law relationship to apply for spousal support (more about this below).
Two other aspects of spousal support that should be noted here are:
- Spousal support payments are tax-deductible for the payor and are considered taxable income for the recipient.
- If spousal support is awarded, it is on the understanding that an attempt to become self-sufficient as soon as possible will be made by the recipient.
Learn More → What Am I Entitled to in an Alberta Divorce?
How is spousal support calculated in Alberta?
There are three main elements that judges awarding spousal support must determine:
- The amount of support
- The duration of support
- How the support will be paid (monthly, lump sum, etc.)
The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines from the federal government can be used to determine the ranges and terms of support. However, judges are granted considerable discretion and will consider the merits of each case before making support orders.
The primary factors that judges consider with this are:
- The length of the marriage
- The role of each party within the marriage, including contributions to homemaking and raising children
- The age and income-earning ability of the applicant for support
- The needs of the applicant (including any health needs)
- Whether the applicant left the workforce during the marriage and if so, for how long
- Whether the applicant can return to the workforce
- Whether either spouse had a financial disadvantage due to the marriage arrangements
Other factors may be considered depending on the circumstances of the case.
In the vast majority of cases, spousal support is paid monthly rather than in a lump sum. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage, the longer the duration of support. If you have been married or in an adult interdependent relationship for more than 20 years, spousal support may last until the recipient dies or remarries.
Full financial disclosure is required before the judge will calculate amounts, which are based mainly on the incomes and the contributions to the marriage of each spouse.
It is in everybody’s interests for the award to be fair (not punitive) but if a spouse hides assets or misreports income, a judge may increase the award.
Once a support order has been issued, it is legally binding. The payor cannot evade payments by declaring bankruptcy and is still required by law to make court-ordered payments.
A spousal support modification may be sought if circumstances change significantly but this requires another application to the court.
I was in a common law relationship. Can I seek spousal support?
Common-law partners are called adult interdependent partners (AIPs) in Alberta and they can claim spousal or “partner” support under the revised Family Law Act.
Eligibility requirements depend mainly on the length and nature of the relationship and whether there are children from the relationship. Even if there are no children, common-law spouses can apply for support if they have lived together continuously for three years.
Notably, if the AIPs had children together, an application for spousal support is likely to be successful if they have lived in a marriage-like relationship.
The calculation concerning amounts and duration of support, as well as how support is paid, is similar to that for divorcing spouses. Again, the longer the relationship, the longer the order is likely to last.
What factors do spousal support lawyers consider in Alberta?
If you are considering an application for spousal support through Spectrum Family Law in Calgary, our spousal support lawyers will first need to understand the situation with the following four aspects of your marriage/relationship and separation:
- What economic advantages or disadvantages have resulted for both partners in the marriage and after the separation?
- What financial consequences have arisen from the care of any child(ren) of the marriage (over and above any obligation for child support, which is treated separately)
- What economic hardships may result from the breakdown of the marriage? Does one partner need to rent a new home?
- When can the applicant reasonably be expected to become self-sufficient?
It is best to discuss your situation with your spousal support lawyer as soon as possible if you are considering applying for support.
Contact our family lawyers for your spousal support questions
Due to the emotionally charged nature of separation cases, it is important to have an objective advocate assist you. The lawyers at Spectrum Family Law can provide you with practical divorce solutions so that you can get through this difficult time in a cost-effective manner.
Although it is always preferable to negotiate a resolution of the issues arising out of a separation, our lawyers are prepared to go to court when necessary to ensure your rights are respected.
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.
Our Calgary office is open 8:30 a.m.—4:30 p.m., Mon—Fri.
Kristin strives to provide strong advocacy and sound legal advice to her clients while guiding them through their family law matters. She has developed a practice that takes an empathetic and practical approach while seeking client-centered, cost-effective solutions.