Do you need to hire a family lawyer? (spousal support)

spousal support Ontario
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Do you need to hire a family lawyer? (spousal support)

In this article, we will discuss:

  • what is spousal support
  • who has to pay spousal support
  • how long is spousal support
  • should you hire a lawyer for spousal support

Spousal support Ontario

A marriage is more than just love and romance. It also creates a financial dependency between you and your partner. As a result, money is one of the most significant issues when a marriage or common-law partnership ends. 

If you are preparing for, going through, or recently finished a divorce, spousal support is likely at the top of your mind. “Alimony” and “maintenance” are also terms that people use to refer to spousal support payments. 

In this article, we explain what spousal support is and answer the common questions surrounding it. We also explain whether you should consider hiring a lawyer to represent and advise you through the process. The objective of this post is to better educate you on what your obligations/entitlements may be under Ontario law. 

What you need to know about spousal support in Ontario

The Department of Justice defines spousal support as “the money that one spouse may have to pay to the other spouse for their financial support following a separation or divorce”. These payments can be made monthly, in a lump sum, or through other arrangements agreed upon by you and your partner. 

Spousal support is not limited to married couples. The Family Law Act — Part 3 Support Obligations defines “spouse” to include cohabiting couples who have lived together for at least three years. So, if you and your partner were not married but lived together for three or more years, one may owe the other support payments. 

Three common questions about spousal support are: 

  • Who has to pay spousal support? 
  • How much is a partner entitled to receive or obligated to pay?
  • When do spousal support payments end?

Who has to pay spousal support?

Spousal support payment involves a Payor and a Payee. The Payee is usually the spouse with the lower-income and who requests spousal support from the higher income-earning partner. The objective of this payment is for the Payor to compensate the Payee for a number of reasons. This could include the Payee’s sacrifice of ability to earn income during the relationship or to help with the Payee’s financial needs resulting from the breakdown of the relationship. 

A court judge ultimately determines whether one spouse should pay spousal support to the other. The judge determines this through various factors such as:

● The financial position of you and your partner — i.e., the partner requesting support is leaving in a worse financial place; 

● The length of time that you and your spouse lived together;

● If one spouse left their career to look after children or family matters;

● If there existed a premarital contract that required spousal payment if the relationship fell apart; 

● Whether children are involved and who has custody; and, 

● The age of each partner upon separation.

The behaviour of you or your partner during the marriage does not affect the legal obligation to provide support payments. This means a judge does not consider factors such as domestic violence or cheating when determining whether one partner has to pay the other. 

How much is a partner entitled to receive or obligated to pay?

Calculating the amount of spousal support the Payor owes to the Payee is a complicated part of family law. Canadian courts and legal professionals use the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines to determine the amount. These Guidelines are not law, and the Court can choose to depart from them if there is reason to. Generally, the Court considers the following when determining the amount of spousal support payable: 

● The length of time that you and your spouse lived together;

● Whether children are involved and who has custody;

● Each partner’s income, financial position, and age; and, 

● Whether one partner was the main income earner or the primary caretaker of the children/the home.

There is numerous software that helps calculate the total amount, such as MySupportCalculator and DivorceMate. These programs s charge a fee and have a free option. The free option can provide an approximation of what to expect. However, the most accurate estimate will ultimately come from an experienced family lawyer. 

You and your partner can also agree on a payment structure that departs from the Guidelines. This provides plenty of flexibility to couples who want to avoid the court process. 

When do spousal support payments end?

How long do I have to pay spousal support in Ontario? If you or your spouse brings a request for support payments before a judge, the judge will generally also determine how long the payments go on for. Alternatively, you and your partner can come to an agreement on the payment’s duration. Commonly, after long-term relationships, payments can go on indefinitely. That is, the Court will review the support payments sometime in the future to determine if they are still necessary.  

Certain events can also trigger a review. These events are usually listed on the court order or agreement between you and your partner. Common trigger events include remarrying, retiring, an increase in the Payee’s income, and more. These events do not guarantee that the payments can end; only that the Court will review whether payments are still necessary. 

The death of the Payee can also end the need for support payments. However, if the Payor passes away, spousal support can continue through the Payor’s available life insurance or other assets. 

Do I need to hire a family lawyer to help me through this process? 

Spousal support is an important legal issue that affects your life after a divorce or separation. As mentioned, calculating the payment is a complicated family law issue. Although there are plenty of online resources that can help, hiring a family lawyer is the best way to estimate how much you owe or are owed. 

In addition, factors that determine whether you or your partner are entitled to payments and factors that determine when these payments will end are legal issues that must be brought before a court and judge. A legal professional can help negotiate a payment structure that is favourable to you and make sure that events that trigger a support payment review plays in your favour.

Whether you decide to hire a lawyer to represent and advise you during the process depends on how much money is at stake, the current relationship between you and your partner, and more. Even if you and your partner come to an agreement without a family lawyer, legal help may still be useful to determine the tax consequences of your payment plan. 

Thus, hiring a family lawyer is an ideal step to take. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate Ontario’s family laws and advocate for your best interest. 

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The original content on LawQX is published by law professionals and law students. To ensure completeness, all of the content published on LawQX is edited by thought-leading lawyers who still practice the law in Canada.

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