Determining Factors for Spousal Support Entitlemen

The Supreme Court of Canada in Bracklow v. Bracklow identified three bases for spousal support entitlement: contractual, compensatory, and non-compensatory, Contractual support would be support based on any agreement that existed between the parties. Compensatory support is meant to reimburse the spouse for choice’s they made during the marriage that required them to sacrifice professional success in favour of the marriage. Non-compensatory is based on the need of the spouse, determined according to the economic interdependency created during the marriage. The longer the marriage, the greater the amount of interdependency, and the longer that may be required to unravel it.

Formulas

There are generally two different methods used to determine both the amount and duration of spousal support: the with child support formula, and the without child support formula. Regardless of the formula applied, both calculations originate from s. 15.2 of the Divorce Act. The Divorce Act sets out, that in making a spousal support order the Court shall consider the means needs and other circumstances of each spouse including:

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  • (a) the length of time the spouses cohabited;
  • (b) the functions performed by each spouse during cohabitation; and
  • (c) any order, agreement or arrangement relating to support of either spouse.

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These considerations are further supplemented by s. 33(9) of the Family Law Act which provides a long list of considerations to be made when the court is addressing both amount and duration of spousal support. The Court weighs these issues in light of the objectives of spousal support, which the Divorce Act sets out as follows:

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  • (a) recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the marriage or its breakdown;
  • (b) apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage over and above any obligation for the support of any child of the marriage;
  • (c) relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the marriage; and
  • (d) in so far as practicable, promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.

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The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAGs”) set out two formulas and the method for determining the amount and duration of spousal support.

While the SSAGs do not need to be strictly adhered to, and contain several exceptions, they have become a valuable tool for the courts in determining duration. In fact, the Ontario Court of Appeal in Fisher v. Fisher held that when Judges deviate from the SSAGs, after being referred to them by counsel, they must provide a reason as to why the SSAGs should not be relied upon.

In the SSAGs, calculations regarding the duration of spousal support rely heavily on the duration of marriage. The amount or ‘quantum’ of support is calculated differently based upon whether child support is being paid.

The Without Child Support Formula

The without child support formula proposes two occasions when a spouse is entitled to indefinite support. First, when the marriage has been 20 years or longer in length. Second, indefinite support may be awarded where the marriage has lasted five years or longer if the years of marriage plus the age of the support recipient at the time of separation equals or exceeds 65. This is known as the “rule of 65”. Indefinite support does not mean permanent support; it simply means that there is no set date of termination.

When the situation does not fit one of these two scenarios, the duration is generally within the range of, at minimum, half the length of the marriage and, at a maximum, the entire duration of the marriage.

In regards to amount, it ranges from 1.5 to 2 percent of the difference between the spouses’ gross incomes for each year of marriage, up to a maximum of 50 percent. For marriages of 25 years or longer the maximum percentage that will be granted is between 37.5 and 50 percent.

The With Child Support Formula

The Guidelines establish that any initial orders when a spouse is also receiving child support should be indefinite. The SSAGs simply suggest that the original order not have an end date but allow for it to be established subsequently. To do this, the Guidelines further include a duration with an upper and lower limit. The minimum being the longer of one half the length of marriage or the date the youngest child starts full time school and the maximum being the longer of the length of the marriage or the date the last or youngest child finished high school.

Under the basic calculation of this formula, the amount is based on a spouse’s individual net disposable income (INDI), which for the paying spouse is essentially their income after removing child support and taxes. The recipient’s spouse’s INDI is their income adjusted for child support, taxes, and, government benefits. The spousal support amount is then calculated based on the recipient spouse receiving between 40 and 46 percent of the spouses’ combined INDI.

How these factors are to be assessed in determining the amount and duration of spousal support will always be a matter to be determined by a judge. A properly prepared and experienced lawyer will have the knowledge to explain the situation to a court in a thorough and persuasive manner regardless of the type of spousal support order being sought.

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