What is Spousal Support (Alimony)?

Spousal support, sometimes called alimony, is the payment made by one spouse to the other spouse for their maintenance and support.  Unmarried spouses can also apply for support under the Family Law Act.  This is called partner support.

Spousal support may be paid monthly, or as a one-time lump sum.  Unlike child support, a spouse is not automatically entitled to spousal support.  Instead, the spouse claiming spousal support must prove entitlement.  There are three kinds of entitlement:

  1. Compensatory – To prove compensatory entitlement for spousal support, the spouse must show that they made career sacrifices for the benefit of their spouse’s career or the family. For example, if the wife quits her job in Edmonton so that her husband can take a new job in Fort McMurray, she may be entitled to support to compensate her for this career sacrifice.
  2. Non-Compensatory – To apply for “needs-based” support, the spouse must show that they are struggling financially, and that this struggle is because of the marriage’s breakdown. For example, if the husband is the breadwinner in the relationship, and the wife was a stay-at-home mother with no job experience, she may receive support until she can support herself.
  3. Contractual – Sometimes Prenuptial Agreements will include clauses stating that one spouse is entitled to spousal support if the marriage breaks down.  If this is the case, then entitlement will be a given.

In determining entitlement for spousal support, the courts considers the spouse’s “condition, means, needs and other circumstances” which may include factors like:

    • Length of time the spouses lived together or were married;
    • The domestic roles and responsibilities performed by each spouse during the relationship;
    • The economic circumstances arising from the relationship or its breakdown;
    • Whether there are other sources of support, for example, child support;
    • The ability of the spouses to become self-sufficient.

Once entitlement is found, then spouses must consider the “quantum” (amount) and “duration” (length of time) of spousal support.

    • Quantum – Quantum is “how much” will need to be paid in spousal support.  Unlike child support, there is no fixed amount of spousal support based upon the payor’s income.  Instead, the discretion to award child support rests with the spouses themselves (if they can reach an agreement), or with the court.The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines provide a broad range of possible spousal support outcomes.  Where you fall in this range will depend upon a number of factors, including the length of the marriage, the income difference between the spouses, and the age when the spouses separated.  Generally, the longer the marriage or cohabitation, and the bigger the income differences between the spouses, the higher the amount of support.
    • Duration – Typically spousal support is paid on a monthly basis for a set number of months.  However, when dealing with long term relationships, the end of spousal support may be “indefinite”, meaning that there is no set expiration date.  Instead, spousal support will need to be reviewed in the future after a change in circumstances has occurred (For example, the payor is unemployed or the recipient won the lottery).Spousal support can also be paid as a lump sum.  In that case, the total amount will often be discounted to account for inflation and interest.

Unlike child support, spousal support is tax-deductible for the payor spouse.  Likewise, the spouse receiving support will be required to pay tax on their spousal support.

Spousal or partner support orders and agreements are eligible to be automatically enforced by the Alberta Maintenance Enforcement Program, provided that a clause specifically allows for this.  In this case, MEP will handle all collections actions if the payor refuses to pay.

Contact an Edmonton Spousal Support Lawyer Today

Spousal & partner support can be a very complicated issue because there are a lot of moving parts.  This is where a family lawyer comes in.  A family lawyer will be able to give you objective, reasonable advice when you need it most, and can estimate what your entitlement or liabilities may be.  Feel free to contact a lawyer or mediator at Morrison LLP at 587-758-1099  about your spousal support question. The first 30 minutes of the call is free.

Although we are based in Edmonton, our family & divorce lawyers—and practicing mediators—are proud to serve much of northern Alberta, including the following communities:

  • Edmonton & Area – Sherwood Park, Beaumont, Leduc, Fort Saskatchewan, St. Albert, Spruce Grove, Stony Plain.
  • North – Athabasca, Morinville, Westlock, Gibbons, Barrhead, Redwater, Peace River, High Level, Fort McMurray.
  • West – Drayton Valley, Edson, Hinton, Whitecourt, Devon.
  • South – Camrose, Wetaskiwin, Millet, Calmar.
  • East – Vegreville, St. Paul, Cold Lake, Bonnyville, Vermillion, Wainwright, Tofield.
Contact Morrison LLP Today