The breakdown of a marriage can be emotionally and financially challenging. As such, spousal support can be a crucial lifeline for spouses who require financial assistance to adjust to their new reality after a divorce or separation. 

This blog will explore the different types of spousal support available to spouses in Alberta and consider eligibility requirements for spousal support awards.

Spousal Support Objectives

Spousal support in Alberta is governed by two primary pieces of legislation, specifically, the federal Divorce Act and the Alberta Family Law Act, depending on the parties’ circumstances. Both emphasize several key objectives for spousal support awards, some of which include: 

  • Sharing the Economic Consequences of the Relationship Breakdown: This acknowledges the financial contributions and sacrifices made by each spouse during the marriage.
  • Promotes Self-Sufficiency: Spousal support awards generally have limited durations in order to promote the long-term financial independence of the spouse requiring support.
  • Maintaining the Spouse’s Standard of Living: Spousal support also seeks to ensure that the spouse requiring support is able to maintain a reasonable standard of living after the dissolution of a relationship, with consideration given to the parties’ pre-separation standard of living.

Understanding the Principles of Spousal Support 

There are three underlying principles which courts will consider when determining entitlement to spousal support: 

  • compensatory support, 
  • non-compensatory (also referred to as needs-based) support, and 
  • contractual support.

Compensatory Support

The objectives of compensatory support are set out in section 15.2(6) of the Divorce Act, which states that the purpose of spousal support is to recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the marriage or its breakdown and to apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage over and above any obligation to support any child of the marriage. For example, a spouse who gave up a career to raise the parties’ child might be entitled to compensatory support for retraining and re-entry into the workforce.

In the case of Moge v. Moge, the Supreme Court of Canada noted that it is rare for spouses to make a clean break, as in most marriages,

“in which both partners make economic sacrifices and share domestic responsibilities, or where one spouse has suffered economic losses to enable the other spouse to further a career, their roles should be considered in the spousal support order.” 

Non-Compensatory Support 

By contrast, the objectives of non-compensatory support, outlined in section 15.2(6) of the Divorce Act, are to relieve the economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the marriage and promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time. This focused on the needs of the spouse requiring support, particularly when the marriage resulted in a significant disparity in living standards between the spouses.  This might apply if one spouse has limited earning capacity due to health issues or requires support to care for young children.

Contractual Support

Finally, contractual support obligations arise from a mutual agreement between the parties. For example, a separation agreement which has been negotiated and agreed upon between the parties may set out the parties’ respective spousal support obligations upon the breakdown of the marriage.

Determining Eligibility for Spousal Support

Eligibility for spousal support depends on various factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage;
  • The financial resources and needs of each spouse; 
  • The standard of living maintained during the marriage; and
  • The spouses’ respective contributions made during the marriage (including financial contributions, household contributions, and childcare responsibilities).

The federal Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (the “Guidelines”) may also be consulted before a spousal support award is made. These Guidelines suggest appropriate ranges of support in various situations for spouses entitled to support to make spousal support more consistent and predictable. In any case, however, the Guidelines do not provide advice on whether a spouse is entitled to support, and a party’s entitlement to support will depend on how the law applies to the unique facts of their situation.

How Long Does Spousal Support Last?

The duration of spousal support can vary depending on factors like the length of the marriage, the spouse’s age, the spouse’s health, and the recipient’s ability to become self-supporting. In some cases, spousal support might be awarded for a specific period, while in others, it may be indefinite.

Final Thoughts of Spousal Support Awards 

Spousal support can significantly help ensure a fair and equitable financial outcome after a marital breakdown in Alberta. By understanding the different types of support available and the guiding principles of each, individuals can make informed decisions about their future.

Navigating spousal support claims is often complex, so it is crucial to consult with a skilled family lawyer to determine whether you may have a claim for spousal support. They can advise you on how the law applies to your specific circumstances, assess your eligibility for spousal support, and guide you through the legal process. 

Calgary Family Lawyers Advising Clients on Spousal Support Awards and Obligations

At Mincher Koeman, our team of experienced family lawyers regularly helps clients negotiate and secure spousal support orders. We work closely with clients to help them understand the underlying principles to support awards, including the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. Our lawyers protect our client’s interests and work to resolve spousal support matters in the most efficient way possible. If you require legal advice regarding a spousal support matter, contact us by phone at 403-910-3000 or contact us online to learn how we can assist you.

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707 7 Ave SW #1300,
Calgary, AB T2P 3H6

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Canmore, AB T1W 2A2

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