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When a marriage ends, it often means more than just the end of a relationship.  In order to lessen the financial impact on the parties involved –whether including children or not– spousal (or Adult Interdependent Partner) support may be granted by the courts after divorce proceedings have been initiated.  Because navigating this process can be complicated, and there is only one opportunity to apply for spousal support, it is generally recommended to consult with a lawyer to ensure that the proper steps are followed.

 What is spousal support?

Spousal support is governed by the Divorce Act of Canada and The Family Law Act of Alberta. Its purpose is to:

  1. Recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages related to the marriage and its subsequent breakdown
  2. Mediate any financial consequences arising from child care that goes beyond child support
  3. Relieve any financial difficulties of the parties that may be brought from the end of the marriage
  4. Allow the spouses the time to ensure their own financial independence

The Divorce Act of Canada legislates married couples in the process of divorce.  Under the act, spousal support may be payable depending on certain circumstances.  Under this act, spousal support is determined by asking:

  1. Is one of the parties entitled to support?
  2. If they are entitled, at what amount?
  3. How long should the support last?

The Family Law Act governs spousal/adult interdependent support obligations.  Unlike with child support guidelines, which are law, the spousal support guidelines are only for advisory purposes. Judges use the guidelines, but have no obligation to do so.

What are the factors that the court considers when calculating spousal support?

The court requires a profile of your income, your expenses and assets at the same time as you file your application for support.  Both parties must also provide each other with proof of their incomes.  It is necessary to make a full disclosure.  The court may award costs against a party who has held back information.  Taking the time to properly gather the information needed is important, as you will not be granted a second chance to present your information.

The court will need your:

–    complete tax returns from the past 3 years

–    Notice of Assessment – a tax status form – from the past 3 years

–    pay stubs or other proof of income for this tax year

–    list of your monthly expenses, including receipts if possible

–    list of all your assets and debts

–    If you are unable to support yourself because of medical problems or educational status, you will need proof of the medical issues and/or proof of registration at an educational institution.

Are parties in common-law subject to spousal support?

In Alberta, a common-law relationship is referred to as an Adult Interdependent Partnership.  Adult Interdependent Partners are eligible for spousal support (also known as Adult Interdependent Partner support).  In cases where the parties have a child together, this in and of itself does not necessarily establish entitlement to Adult Interdependent Partner support.  It is necessary to provide proof of an interdependent and permanent relationship between the parties.

 What am I entitled to?

Spousal support is meant to recognize and account for economic advantages and disadvantages caused by the end of a marriage.  Income disparity alone does not mean entitlement.

 There are two formulations for calculating spousal support, relating to whether or not child support is being paid:

1.  If there are no children, you can calculate a range to be awarded:

–    Low-End amount: Find the difference between the gross incomes of each of the parties. Multiply that difference by .015. Multiply that number by the number of years the parties have lived together.  This is the low-end amount

–    High-end amount: Find the difference between the gross incomes of the two parties. Multiply that number by .02. Multiply that number by the number of years the parties lived together.  The result is the high-end amount.  Please note that the maximum that will ever be paid will result in the parties having equal incomes.

2.  If there are children, you can calculate a general amount by taking the net disposable incomes of each of the parties, after taxes, deductions and childcare expenses, to leave 40-46% of the total to the recipient of spousal support.  Calculating spousal support with child support is complicated and takes special software to calculate properly.  If you would like more specific information about how much should be paid, you must contact a lawyer.  The amount will also vary depending on whether or not custody is shared or split or if the children also reside with the payor of spousal support.  In cases combining both child support and spousal support in which the payor is unable to pay both, child support will take precedence.

How long can I expect to receive spousal support?

Again, there are many factors to be taken into consideration, but the guidelines generally state:

–    In cases with no children, that support will be given for a maximum of one year per year the parties resided together

–    In cases with children, the support will continue either for the maximum of one year per year the parties resided together or until the children complete high school, whichever is longer

–    The rule of 20 and the rule of 65, wherein support can continue indefinitely if the parties resided together for over 20 years, or if when adding the years lived together to the recipient’s age, the total is more than 65.

 What circumstances would exclude me from paying or receiving spousal support?

Misconduct will not factor into it is granted or the amount granted.  Spousal support is intended neither to reward nor punish behaviour.  Withholding information about income will be viewed by the courts negatively, and could lead to penalties.

What are the steps to apply for spousal support?

A clear guide to begin the process for applying for spousal support can be found on the Government of Alberta’s website.

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