Spousal Support is a payment that one spouse makes to another spouse to help with their living expenses or to compensate them for economic choices that were made during a relationship.
Before calculating the amount of support payable, it needs to be determined whether a spouse is entitled to receive support at all. There is no automatic right to receive spousal support just for living with someone and being in a relationship – unlike Child Support, where there is an automatic obligation to pay. Whether someone is entitled to receive spousal support and how much support will be paid depends on the particulars of those spouses’ relationship.
Spousal support is only available for all spouses and former spouses under the Family Law Act, which defines “Spouses” as people who are married or have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for more than two years or for less than two years but who have a child together.
Courts take many factors into consideration when determining if a spouse is entitled to spousal support, including the length of the relationship, difference in incomes, economic opportunities a spouse has lost as a result of the relationship and the relative earning capacities of both spouses.
Once entitlement is established, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, a Department of Justice paper, will generally be used to calculate the amount of support that must be paid. The Guidelines are not actually considered law in British Columbia, but a judge must consider them when making a decision on spousal support – failure to do so and even awarding an amount that falls substantially outside the Guidelines can be an appealable error.
The Guidelines use two formulas to determine how much spousal support must be paid, one when child support is also being paid and one when child support is not also being paid.
The “Without Child Support” formula is fairly simple. The amount of support paid is equal to 1.5 to 2 percent of the difference between the spouses’ gross incomes for each year of marriage. This amount must be paid to the recipient for 0.5 to 1 year for each year of the relationship. If the relationship was longer than 20 years, or if the age of the recipient plus the number of years of the relationship equals 65, support will be paid indefinitely.
So if, for example, the relationship was 10 years long and the difference between the two spouses’ gross incomes is $10,000, then the payor should pay the recipient $1500 to $2000 per year or $125 to $166.66 per month. Support should be paid for 5-10 years or, if the recipient is 55 or older at the time of separation, then support should be paid indefinitely.
The “With Child Support” formula is much more complicated and requires an understanding of various government benefits, tax deductions and tax credits. Tune in next time as we deal with more exciting calculations in part 2 of this series on spousal support payments!