Sometimes, parties may need to pay the other spousal support upon the relationship breakdown. For long relationships or those where a party needs to be compensated for their contributions to the household, spousal support may be indefinite, meaning that there is no end date for payments. In other cases, such as for shorter relationships or one in which a party did not have to make significant sacrifices, a shorter period of spousal support may be appropriate. The court may also set an end date for the spousal support payments. Even if there is no end date, a court may find that spousal support should terminate at some point, even if there is no specified end date. 

This post will discuss the factors determining if spousal support can terminate even without a specified end date. This post will also discuss spousal or partner support in the context of common-law partners or “adult interdependent partners.” We will examine a case example, Laduke v Lee, 2023 ABCJ 225, in which the court decided that a party’s spousal support obligations should be terminated based on the circumstances. This post will provide key takeaways for parties seeking to understand their spousal support obligations, including their duration in adult interdependent partnerships. 

Termination of Spousal Support Can Depend on Entitlement

Whether the court decides to terminate spousal support depends on the entitlement type. There are several forms of spousal support entitlement. First, there is a compensatory entitlement, which may be granted if one of the parties gives up certain opportunities to support the household during the relationship or benefit the other party in some way. As a result, that party acted to their detriment and should be compensated for what they contributed to the relationship. For example, if a party moves and gives up on their career opportunities to improve those of their partner, then this can be grounds for compensatory spousal support. Another example is if one of the partners gives up their career opportunities to care for their children at home. This is to their detriment because, at the end of the relationship, they would not be at the same level in their career as if they had not given up those opportunities. 

Another type of entitlement to spousal support is non-compensatory. This entitlement arises when the partner receiving spousal support is in need of the support. For example, a party may suffer economic hardship upon the relationship breakdown if they expect to rely on the other. Also, if they live at means that are lower than their standard of living during the relationship, they may be entitled to spousal support on non-compensatory grounds.

Finally, there is spousal support on contractual grounds. Some parties may have a cohabitation or separation agreement that sets out the terms for spousal support entitlements and payments.

In some cases, the court’s decision to terminate spousal support may depend on the type of entitlement. For example, with compensatory support, the spousal support may be shortened if the reasons for compensatory support no longer exist or enough time has passed so that the party receiving spousal support should be economically self-sufficient after the relationship ends. As we will discuss in the Laduke case below, if the compensatory spousal support arose from needing to care for a child, the child’s age or circumstances may be relevant to finding if a compensatory claim requires indefinite support.

When can the court terminate spousal support?

The court can vary, suspend, or terminate a support order. Spousal support can also be terminated prospectively or retroactively. 

The test for terminating spousal support is finding a change in either party’s condition, means, needs, or other circumstances since the spousal support order was made. In other words, this means that circumstances that were known and existed at the time of the spousal support order to be terminated must be different from the current circumstances.

The changes must also be material, meaning they would have resulted in different spousal support order terms. The new circumstances must also be more than temporary and are expected to continue. 

How can spousal support be retroactively terminated?

The court may also terminate spousal support retroactively, meaning it can decide it should have been terminated earlier. However, this is an unusual remedy and may only apply in particular circumstances. The court may look to see if the order contained any errors in the intention of the order, given the facts of the case, especially for relatively shorter relationships where indefinite spousal support is not expected. 

In the Laduke case, the parties had a brief relationship for 17 months and were considered adult interdependent partners. They had a child who lived primarily with the mother after separation. The father was required to pay child and spousal support as per an order in 1984. 

The court found a significant change in the father’s conditions, means, and needs since the original spousal support order. During the time of the initial order, the parties expected that the payor would continue working. However, after some time, he began to suffer from significant illness since 1999, which severely limited his ability to work. His medical conditions did not improve over time, and he became unable to return to work. At the time of the hearing, the father had difficulty supporting himself and his medical conditions, including affording his prescription medication. The court found that the father’s spousal support obligations should be terminated immediately. 

The court also found that the father’s spousal support obligations should be retroactively terminated. The court found that while there is limited room to change the final order retroactively, the order did not accurately set out the court’s intention because it did not specify an end date to his obligations. In particular, the previous court that issued the order knew that their relationship was 17 months, which was quite brief. The court found that there was an omission on when the spousal support would end, as it would not be expected for a short relationship, and there was no case law suggesting that support for relatively shorter adult interdependent relationships should be indefinite. 

The court also found that the spousal support order was likely made on a compensatory basis, although the mother did not file a response nor make submissions at the hearing. The court found that it was likely a compensatory basis because the child lived primarily with the mother after separation. At this hearing, the child was already well over the age of majority and close to 40 years old. As a result, the court found that enough time had elapsed so that spousal support was not necessary, as the mother should have been economically self-sufficient at this point, especially given the child’s age.

Calgary Family Lawyers Advising on Spousal Support Claims

Entitlement to spousal support, as well as the amount and duration, highly depends on the facts of the case. You may be obligated to pay spousal support and should proactively discuss it with one of our family law lawyers at Mincher Koeman, who are experienced in assisting parties with spousal support claims. Our Calgary and Canmore family law lawyers, are dedicated to finding the best resolution for you after divorce.

To book a consultation, please contact us online or by phone at 403-910-3000.

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