What is spousal support?
Spousal support is money paid by one spouse to the other after they separate or divorce. Spousal support is almost always paid by the spouse with the higher income to the spouse with the lower income. The gender of the spouses does not matter.
Who can get spousal support?
Both married and unmarried (common-law) spouses may be able to get spousal support, or may have to pay spousal support. If the spouses are not married, they must have lived together as a couple:
- for at least 3 years, or
- for any length of time if they were in a relationship of “some permanence” and had a child together.
What is spousal support for?
The purposes of spousal support are to:
- recognize a spouse’s contributions to the relationship,
- share the financial costs of caring for a child,
- relieve financial hardship,
- help a spouse become able to contribute to his or her own support, or
- correct any economic advantage or disadvantage to a spouse caused by the relationship or the relationship breakdown. For example, if a spouse gave up their job to care for the children, they may not be able to become self-supporting right away.
In most situations, spouses are expected to try to become self-supporting as soon as possible.
How do you get spousal support?
Spousal support can be negotiated and agreed on by the spouses and written into a separation agreement. This is often done along with other issues such as child support, parenting arrangements (custody and access), and property division.
Lawyers and mediators can help the spouses reach an agreement. But if the spouses cannot agree, a judge or arbitrator can decide.
How do judges decide on spousal support?
A judge may decide that one spouse must pay support because of his or her ability to pay and the other spouse’s financial need. Or the reason may be to compensate the other spouse for unpaid work that he or she did during the relationship.
If the judge decides there should be spousal support, the judge must then decide the amount of support and for how long it must be paid. The judge will take into account things such as:
- the length of the relationship,
- whether there are children and what arrangements have been made for them,
- the roles the spouses played during the relationship,
- the age of each spouse, and
- each spouse’s financial situation.
The judge may also consider the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs).
What are the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines?
The Guidelines have been used since 2008 to help people decide how much spousal support should be paid and for how long. They are only guides, but they are often used by lawyers and judges. The Guidelines cannot be used to decide if someone should get spousal support or not. That must be decided first.
The Guidelines take many things into account and are quite complicated. When all the information has been gathered and a calculation has been done, the Guidelines will give low, middle, and high ranges of support amounts to consider. This can help the spouses or a judge decide what amount is right depending on the circumstances.
How is spousal support paid?
Spousal support is usually paid each month, but sometimes it can be paid in a “lump sum” (all together).
How are spousal support payments taxed?
Monthly spousal support is taxable for the spouse receiving support (the “recipient”) and tax deductible for the spouse paying support (the “payor”). This is different from how child support is taxed.
But if the support is paid all at once in a lump sum it is not taxable for the recipient and the payor cannot claim it as a tax deduction.
How is spousal support enforced?
A provincial government office called the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) can enforce support payments. The court automatically files all support orders with the FRO. Separation agreements can also be filed there if they have been filed with the court. The FRO tells the payor spouse to make all support payments to the FRO. When the FRO receives a payment, it sends a cheque to the recipient spouse, or deposits the money directly into the recipient’s bank account.
The FRO has different ways to collect unpaid support from the payor. It can:
- have the payments automatically deducted from their wages or other income (for example, sales commissions, Employment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, income tax refunds, severance pay, and pensions),
- register a charge (a lien) against their personal property or real estate,
- take money from (garnish) their bank account, or garnish up to half of a joint bank account that they have with someone else, or
- make an order against anyone who is helping them hide income or assets that should go toward support.
The FRO can also put pressure on spouses who do not make their support payments by:
- suspending their driver’s licence,
- reporting them to credit bureaus so that it will be difficult for them to get loans, or
- cancelling their passports.
The FRO can help you collect money from a payor who lives in Canada, the United States, or another country that Ontario has an agreement with. If Ontario does not have an agreement with the country where the payor lives, the FRO cannot help you collect support.
The FRO cannot change the amount that the order or agreement says the payor has to pay. If either spouse thinks that a change in the situation justifies a change in the support amount, they can try to get a new agreement or go to court to try to get the support order changed.