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How is spousal support determined?

The awarding of spousal support in a serparation or divorce is not guaranteed in Canada. Judges can consider many factors in determining whether one spouse is awarded support and the amount of that obligation. They can also determine when and if the spouse receiving support is required to become self-supporting.

Among the factors that judges consider are the following:

  • How long the marriage lasted
  • Both people's financial resources and the needs
  • Support agreements or orders already in place
  • If one spouse's role during the marriage impacted that person's financial situation

This last consideration is often crucial. For example, spouses who have been stay-at-home parents may have little or no individual financial resources or income. It may take them some time to get the education and/or work experience they need to get a job that will support them. Judges are tasked with weighing how long the other spouse can and should help financially. Of course, the ages of any children and their custody arrangements will play a factor in how soon a spouse can become self-supporting.

Even if one spouse has considerably more assets or income than the other, the courts aren't necessarily obligated to order that spouse to pay support. If the wealthier of the two was already making considerably more money prior to the marriage, that would be a different situation than if one spouse was able to build a career and a healthy income because the other spouse took care of the children.

Child custody arrangements and how much one parent is paying in child support are also key to determining spousal support. Under Canada's federal Divorce Act, the judge must consider how much a person will be paying in child support before determining spousal support. Priority must be given to child support.

It should be noted that the reasons for the divorce are not among the factors that judges are asked to consider when determining spousal support. 

The Divorce Act governs spousal support for divorcing couples who were legally married. However, spousal support determination for unmarried couples in common-law relationships and for separated married couples vary by province and territory. Regardless of your situation, an Ontario lawyer who specializes in family law can help you work to get a fair settlement for you and your children.

Source: Department of Justice, "About spousal support," accessed Oct. 12, 2015

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