Spousal support is money paid by one spouse to the other following a separation or divorce. Its general purpose is to compensate one spouse for any financial losses suffered as a result of the marriage and to assist that spouse until they become financially independent. It is not intended to punish or blame one spouse for the breakdown of the relationship. Spousal support can either be agreed to between the spouses or set by the courts.
Who gets spousal support?
Spousal support is not available for everyone, and will depend on several different factors. The court will generally look at the length of time the spouses were married and the roles that each spouse played during the marriage. If a spouse is unable to support herself or himself and can show that they are in this position because of the marriage, they will usually be entitled to spousal support provided the other spouse has income. Spousal support is often awarded where there is a significant difference in the incomes of the spouses.
How is the amount of spousal support determined?
The amount of spousal support generally depends on the need of the spouse seeking support, the ability of the other spouse to pay and what kind of lifestyle and standard of living the spouses enjoyed during the marriage. Though spousal support can be a lump sum payment, most of the time it is an ongoing weekly or monthly payment.
The extent of the obligation to pay spousal support will depend on many different factors. Where the marriage had been of short duration it is more likely that any support ordered will be of short duration. Where both spouses worked throughout the marriage any support ordered may be for a limited term. On the other hand, where the marriage was a “traditional marriage” in the sense that the wife remained in the home, raising the children without significant employment outside the home, the support obligation may be without time limitation.
Changing the amount of spousal support
After a court makes a spousal support order, either spouse can apply to have it increased or decreased if there has been a material change in circumstances. For example, you may be able to reduce your payments if you recently lost your job, if your spouse recently remarried or if your spouse was able to get a job. Much will depend on the circumstances of each case and whether the “material change” was foreseeable. This is an area where legal advice should be sought before making any application.
Since spousal support is assessed on a case-by-case basis, it is important to know your rights. A lawyer can help you determine whether spousal support should be paid and in what amount.