Fact Sheet: Spousal Support

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by Pamela Cross, LLB

At the end of a marriage or common-law relationship, one of the partners is often in a worse financial situation than the other.  Spousal support is intended to offset this financial difference.

Spousal support is governed by the Family Law Act, which defines "spouse" as either a married or common-law spouse.

To be considered a common-law spouse, the couple has to have lived together for at least three years or be in a steady relationship and have had or adopted a child.

The goal of spousal support is to assist both spouses in becoming financially independent as soon as reasonably possible, taking into account the circumstances of the relationship.

For example, where one spouse stayed home to raise the children or had to change jobs frequently because of the requirements of the other spouse's employment, spousal support would be appropriate.

The court considers a number of factors when deciding on the appropriate amount of support to be paid:

  • the present and potential earning capability of both spouses
  • the length of the marriage or cohabitation
  • the role each spouse played in the relationship
  • roles of each spouse post-separation
  • the impact of these roles on each spouse's ability to earn income

Spousal support may run permanently or for a specified period of time, depending on the factors set out earlier.

The amount of support decreases over time, as the spouse receiving it becomes better able to support herself.

Spousal Support Guidelines are used by courts to assist judges in deciding on the appropriate amount of support. Unlike the Child Support Guidelines, these are not law but simply guidelines.

Spousal support orders are enforced through the Family Responsibility Office, although child support must be paid first.

Unlike child support, spousal support is taxable income for the recipient and is a tax deduction for the payer.

This Fact Sheet contains general legal information only.  It is not a legal document, nor is it a replacement for legal advice.  Anyone in a situation involving family, immigration or refugee law is strongly urged to meet with a lawyer to understand fully their rights and responsibilities, the legal options available to them and appropriate legal processes.  A lawyer can interpret the law and provide advice based on the personal facts and information in the specific case.

For information about finding a lawyer in your community, contact Legal Aid Ontario at 1 800 668 8258 or 417 979 1446.

You can also visit Legal Aid Ontario online at www.legalaid.on.ca