Spousal Support

Determining Spousal Support in British Columbia

Spousal support refers to monetary payments made by one spouse or partner to the other spouse or partner. In general, spousal support is awarded in British Columbia when a couple is separating or divorcing, and it is designed to help the lower-earning spouse afford living expenses. In other places, this type of support is sometimes known as maintenance or alimony.

What Determines if Spousal Support Should be Awarded?

When a married couple decides to get divorced or two people in a domestic partnership decide to end their relationship, one or both parties may have questions and concerns about spousal support. The parties likely will want to know if spousal support will automatically be awarded to one of the parties, and whether the other party will then have to make those payments. To be clear, spousal support is not automatic in British Columbia.

Rather than automatically awarding spousal support to one of the parties when a legal relationship ends, the court instead must determine whether spousal support is appropriate in a particular case. In general, spousal support can be awarded in one of two situations:

  • Spouse or partner was financially dependent upon the other during the relationship; or
  • Spouse or partner gave up the opportunity for financial advancement for the benefit of the other spouse or the family (such as by staying home to raise children or turning down promotions so that the other spouse could advance in his or her career).

Courts look at each situation and use a variety of factors for determining whether spousal support is appropriate. Examples of those factors can include:

  • Length of the parties’ relationship;
  • Age of the parties;
  • Roles in the relationship, and whether one party gave up financial or economic advancement for the benefit of the other party or the family;
  • Likelihood that the spouse seeking support will be able to support himself or herself;
  • Health of the spouse or partner seeking support, and whether illness or disability will affect that party’s ability to support himself or herself;
  • Reasonable needs of both of the parties;
  • Property owned separately by each of the parties; and
  • Income differences between the parties.

To be clear, courts do not consider “fault” or “misconduct” when determining whether spousal support is appropriate in a case.

Who is Entitled to Spousal Support?

The spouse or partner with the lower income who may be financially dependent upon the other spouse is typically the party who seeks support in a divorce or dissolution of another type of legal relationship. It is important to know that you do not need to have children from the relationship in order to be eligible for spousal support. If you are separating from your spouse or getting divorced, you may be able to obtain spousal support payments under British Columbia law.

In British Columbia, you also may be eligible for spousal support even if you were not married but were part of a common-law couple or were in a domestic partnership. In general, to be eligible for spousal support under the Parenting and Support Act. For most couples in these situations, you must have been in a relationship for at least two years prior to seeking spousal support. Then, similar to when a couple gets divorced, the court will look at a variety of factors to determine whether spousal support is appropriate.

How is the Amount of Spousal Support Determined?

The amount of spousal support is guided by the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs). Courts are not required to follow the SSAGs, but they are used by courts as general guidelines to determine the amount of spousal support and the duration. The SSAGs are not binding on courts, but they help to streamline the amount and duration of a spousal support award. The SSAGs have two guidelines — spousal support with dependent children, and support without dependent children.

The courts often use an income sharing model to determine spousal support, looking at the difference between the parties’ incomes. Spousal support payments typically can be lump-sum awards or a series of ongoing payments.

Changing Amount of Spousal Support

If a situation changes significantly, it may be possible to ask the court to review a spousal support order. In most cases, the paying party will apply to the court to stop or change the spousal support award.

Determining Spousal and Child Support Payments

It is important to know that, while the SSAGs are only guidelines for determining spousal support payments in British Columbia, the Child Support Guidelines are binding. Determining eligibility for spousal support can be complex, but a family lawyer can advocate for you.

Call a Family Lawyer at Norton Law

The family law team and lawyers at Norton Law have decades of experience dealing with complicated legal issues relating to family law and spousal support. We have a long history and track record for achieving successful outcomes for our clients. Contact our team to retain the legal representation that you deserve.