Difference between revisions of "Introduction to Spousal Support"

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{{Dial-A-Law Blurb}}
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{{REVIEWEDPLS | reviewer = [http://bhmlawyers.ca/team-2/samantha-rapoport/ Samantha Rapoport], Brown Henderson Melbye|date= March 2021}} {{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = divorce}}
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The breakup of a relationship can leave partners on an unequal financial footing. A spouse who’s struggling moneywise may ask the other for help. Learn about '''spousal support'''.
  
{{Dial-A-Law TOC|expanded = family}}
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{| class="wikitable"
This script discusses spousal support, sometimes called “maintenance” or “alimony”. This discussion applies equally to married spouses and unmarried spouses.
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|align="left"|'''Alert!'''
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This information has been updated to reflect [https://dialalaw.peopleslawschool.ca/the-divorce-act-is-changing changes to the ''Divorce Act''] that took effect on March 1, 2021.
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|}
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==What you should know==
  
==What is spousal support?==
+
===What spousal support is for===
Spousal support is money paid by one spouse to the other when a relationship breaks down and the couple has separated. Spousal support is not paid just because a couple was married or was in a marriage-like relationship; the spouse seeking spousal support must prove that he or she is entitled to receive it. The reasons why a spouse might be entitled to receive spousal support are discussed in more detail below.
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'''Spousal support''' is money paid by one spouse (the payor) to the other (the recipient) after separation. It’s meant to:
  
==Who can claim spousal support?==
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* help with living costs and ease financial strain the breakup may have caused
Everyone who qualifies as a “spouse” can claim spousal support after separation. Spouses are people who:
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* assist a spouse who’s struggling financially because of the relationship or its breakdown 
 +
* compensate a spouse for their role in the relationship (for example, a spouse who sacrificed their career to care for children)
 +
* help each spouse become financially independent within a reasonable amount of time
  
*are married;
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Spousal support is usually paid under an agreement or court order after a relationship ends. This doesn’t automatically happen — you have to '''apply''' for spousal support. Anyone who was in a married or unmarried '''spousal''' relationship can do so. Each couple’s circumstances will determine how much support is paid, if any.
*have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years; and
 
*have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for less than two years and have a child together.
 
  
Whether a spouse is entitled to spousal support, and if so in what amount, depends on the specific circumstances of each couple.
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===Who can claim spousal support===
 +
Anyone who qualifies as a '''spouse''' can ask for spousal support after separation.  
  
==How to get spousal support?==
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There are two laws that deal with spousal support: the federal ''Divorce Act'' and the provincial ''Family Law Act''. Under the federal [http://canlii.ca/t/7vbw ''Divorce Act''], spouses are people who are, or were, married to each other.
Arrangements for the payment of spousal support can be made in a separation agreement. If spouses cannot agree on the payment of spousal support, the court can make an order requiring the payment of spousal support if entitlement is proven.  
 
  
Married spouses can ask for an order for spousal support under both the federal Divorce Act and the provincial ''Family Law Act''. Unmarried spouses can only ask for spousal support under the Family Law Act. Claims for spousal support under the Family Law Act must be made within two years of an order for divorce or nullity of a marriage for married spouses, or within two years of the date of separation for unmarried spouses.
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Under BC’s [https://www.canlii.org/en/bc/laws/stat/sbc-2011-c-25/latest/sbc-2011-c-25.html#sec3_smooth ''Family Law Act''], spouses are people who:
  
==Which court to go to?==
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* are married,
Married spouses can apply for spousal support under both the ''Divorce Act'' and the ''Family Law Act''. If they choose to apply for spousal support under the ''Divorce Act'', or under both laws, they must make a claim in the Supreme Court. If they apply for support under the ''Family Law Act'', they can make a claim in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court. Each court has its own forms, rules and procedures.
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* have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” '''for at least two years''', or
 +
* have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for less than two years and '''have a child together'''.
  
Unmarried spouses can only apply for spousal support under the ''Family Law Act''. They can apply for spousal support in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court.
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Married spouses can seek spousal support under '''either Act'''. Unmarried spouses can '''only''' ask for spousal support under the ''Family Law Act''.
  
==What are “interim” support orders and “final” support orders?==  
+
===When a spouse can get spousal support==
After a couple separates, either spouse may begin a court case asking for an order for spousal support, and for other orders such as for divorce, if they are married, or about the parenting arrangements for a  child. In between the beginning of the court case and its end, spouses may need to ask the court for “interim” orders for spousal support. It can often take a year or more to bring a court case to a trial or a settlement. Interim orders for spousal support are meant to be temporary and only last until another interim order is made or until the court case ends.
+
Many factors determine whether a spouse can get spousal support. Some of these include:
  
Final orders are made by a judge following trial, or with the agreement of the parties following settlement. Final orders are meant to be permanent.
+
* '''Length of the relationship'''. The longer the relationship, the more likely spousal support will be awarded.
 +
* '''Difference in incomes'''. The greater the difference between the spouses’ incomes at the end of a relationship, the more likely spousal support will be awarded.
 +
* '''Economic disadvantage'''. The worse off financially the relationship has left one spouse, the more likely that spouse will be awarded support. A struggling spouse may have left the workforce to raise a child, for example, leading them to miss out on developing job skills and on getting raises.
 +
* '''Earning capacity'''. The less capable a spouse is of earning an income, the more likely spousal support will be awarded. Earning potential can be limited by things like family obligations (such as providing child care) or a serious illness.
  
''How does the court decide if spousal support should be ordered?''
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During the relationship, one spouse might have been supporting the other financially. That arrangement doesn’t end at the moment of the breakup. The supporting spouse must continue to help the other. On the other hand, if the spouses have been self-supporting all along, neither spouse is likely to get financial help after separation.
The court considers several factors, including:
 
  
*the length of the relationship
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===The effect of a spouse’s behaviour on support===
*any advantages or disadvantages to the spouses as a result of their relationship or its breakdown
+
How a spouse acts usually doesn’t matter when it comes to spousal support. So, a spouse can still get support whether they’ve been, say, violent or unfaithful, or a victim of violence. 
*the functions performed by each spouse during their relationship
 
*any financial consequences arising from the care of the child
 
*the financial circumstances of each spouse, both during the relationship and after separation
 
*the ability of each spouse to support him or herself
 
  
Generally, if one spouse supported the other during their relationship, that spouse will be expected to continue to contribute to the support of the other spouse after the relationship breaks down. On the other hand, if both spouses were financially independent when together or are capable of being financially independent after separation, then in general, neither will be entitled to receive financial support after separation. 
+
But, under BC family law, a court ''can'' look at how a spouse has acted to see whether:
  
In some cases, though, a spouse may be entitled to support even if they were not financially dependent on the other spouse. This kind of support is called “compensatory spousal support” and is sometimes ordered where a spouse has suffered a financial loss as a result of decisions made during the relationship, such as a decision to leave the workforce to raise a child, or to leave a job in order to move with the family to a new town.
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* a recipient is taking steps to become self-sufficient, or
 +
* a payor’s conduct unreasonably affects their ability to pay support (for example, a spouse quits their job so they don’t have to pay support).
  
==Does a spouse’s behaviour affect whether support is paid?==
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===How much support a spouse can get===  
The conduct of the spouses is usually irrelevant when deciding support. For example, a spouse will not be denied support because he or she had an affair or because he or she was violent or suffered violence.  
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Support payment amounts are usually based on the [https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/spousal-epoux/ssag-ldfpae.html Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines]. These guidelines — used by a court or by the parties themselves — help determine how much spousal support should be paid and for how long.
  
Under the ''Family Law Act'', however, the court can consider conduct that:
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This can get complicated. Especially if the couple has a child. For help, you can use free online calculators, such as [http://www.mysupportcalculator.ca/ mysupportcalculator.ca]. They can do simple calculations and give you an idea of how much support you might get.
  
*unreasonably causes or prolongs a need for spousal support; or
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====Both spouses must provide full financial disclosure====
*unreasonably affects a spouse’s ability to pay spousal support
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Both spouses must share all details about their financial situation with each other. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in court or trying to settle out of court. (Spouses often complete and exchange financial statements using the forms required by the courts, even when they’re not in a court proceeding.)
  
==How is the amount of spousal support determined?==
+
Financial statements help the spouses get a complete picture of their property and debts and their income and liabilities. Financial statements are usually provided along with important documents like income tax returns, tax assessments, and copies of financial documents such as bank statements.
Once it has been decided that a spouse should receive spousal support, the amount of spousal support is usually determined using the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, whether the amount is being determined by the court or negotiated by the parties. The Guidelines use a number of mathematical formulas to calculate ranges spousal support amounts and the length of time for which it should be paid.  
 
  
The formulas used to determine these ranges can be very complicated, especially if a child is involved, and it’s usually necessary to use a computer program. Lawyers have access to sophisticated software called DivorceMate to determine the ranges of duration of spousal support. Alternatively, the simplified calculator is available for free at [http://www.mysupportcalculator.ca www.mysupportcalculator.ca].
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===How long spousal support is paid for===
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Once it’s clear that spousal support is owed, and how much is payable, the next question is: for how long? The answer often depends on how long the spouses were together.
  
==Do spouses have to disclose all their finances when someone is asking for spousal support?==
+
People leaving '''long''' relationships might receive spousal support for their whole lives — or at least until the payor of support retires. The courts recognize that the older a person is, the harder it generally is to get back into the workforce or to retrain.  
Full financial disclosure is required of both spouses when making decisions about spousal support, whether the spouses are in court or are trying to negotiate a resolution outside of court. Spouses often complete and exchange financial statements (Form F8 in the Supreme Court and Form 4 in the Provincial Court), even when they’re not in court.
 
  
Financial statements help to give the spouses a complete picture of their property and debts, income and liabilities, and are usually provided along with important documents like income tax returns and tax assessments. However, these forms can be complicated; thus, the help of a lawyer may be needed.  
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People who’ve been in '''shorter''' relationships might receive support for a limited time. This is true especially where the recipient is either working outside the home or capable of working outside the home.
  
==What are the tax consequences of spousal support?==
+
Each spouse is expected to make reasonable efforts to support themselves. For example, a spouse may need job training before going back to work. In that case, support payments may be limited to the time needed to complete that training.
Spousal support is taxable income in the hands of the spouse who receives it and deductible from the taxable income of the spouse who pays it. The person receiving support payments must report the income to Canada Revenue Agency and pay tax on it, just like employment income. The person paying support is allowed to claim the payments as a tax deduction, just like RRSP contributions.
 
  
Only spousal support payments that are paid on a periodic basis; for example once a month or once every two weeks, are actually paid, and, are paid because of a written agreement or a court order are taxable and deductible. Other kinds of support payments, such as payments made in one or more lump sums, payments to third parties (like a landlord) or payments in services, may not be taxable or deductible. It may be necessary to speak to a lawyer to confirm the tax status of spousal support payments.
+
===How to get spousal support===
 +
Spouses can make arrangements for spousal support in a '''separation agreement'''. If they can’t agree, one of them can apply to court for a '''spousal support order'''.
  
The tax consequences of support payments should be taken into account when determining the amount of support that should be paid. For more information on this, see script [[Income Tax Implications of Support Payments (Script 133)|133]] on the “Income Tax Implications of Support Payments”.
+
====Which court to go to====
 +
A married spouse can apply for spousal support in:
  
==How long is spousal support paid for?==
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* BC Supreme Court, under the ''Divorce Act'' or the ''Family Law Act'', or
The law expects each spouse to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting if at all possible. To encourage this, the court may limit the support payments to a certain length of time. For example, if a spouse needs to get job training before returning to work, the court may limit payments to the period of time needed to complete that training. On the other hand, the court may order that payments go on indefinitely, or until the paying spouse retires. In cases where it’s uncertain how much time a partner will need to become self-supporting, the court can make a support order that is reviewable after a certain length of time or upon a certain event, like a spouse’s retirement.
+
* the Provincial Court, under the ''Family Law Act''.
  
The length of the spouses’ relationship is often a significant factor in determining how long spousal support should be paid. The courts recognize that the older the person is, the harder it generally is to return to the work-force or retrain.. As a result, the longer the relationship is, the less likely it is that a stay-at-home spouse will have to look for work and the more likely it is that spousal support will have to be paid indefinitely.
+
An unmarried spouse can apply for spousal support in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court under the ''Family Law Act''.
  
==What happens if circumstances change?==
+
Each court has its own rules and forms. For Provincial Court, [[Provincial (Family) Court|see our information on Provincial (Family) Court]].
Financial disclosure may have to be made again if there’s a significant change in the financial circumstances of either spouse after spousal support has been ordered or agreed to. Even after a final support order has been made, the amount of support can be changed if either spouse’s income or other financial circumstances change. Generally, the change must be significant and must not have been foreseeable when the support order or agreement was made.
 
  
==What to do if the spouse won’t pay the support?==  
+
====Getting “interim” support====
If the spouse does not pay spousal support as ordered or agreed, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) can help free of charge. FMEP will help collect support payments that are owed and monitor a support order to make sure payments continue to be made. For more information, refer to script [[Enforcing Orders and Agreements for Support (Script 132)|132]] on “Enforcing Orders and Agreements for Support”.
+
While the court case is ongoing, either spouse may ask the court for an '''interim order''' for spousal support. This is a temporary order meant to last until the case is settled or goes to trial. For more on interim orders in Supreme Court, [[Applying for an Interim Order in a Family Law Case in Supreme Court|see our information on applying for an interim order in a family law case in Supreme Court]].
  
==What happens if the recipient is on social assistance?==
+
When determining whether to make an order for interim support, the court will look at the “means and needs” of the parties. That is: does the recipient have the need for support, and does the payor have the means to pay?
If the recipient of spousal support is applying for or receiving social assistance, she or he will be required to sign a form that assigns any rights she or he may have to apply for or receive spousal support to the Ministry. This allows the Ministry to take whatever steps it considers necessary to collect spousal support on the recipient’s behalf, and to keep some or all of the support it collects. The Family Maintenance Program (which is different from the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program) is the program that collects spousal support on behalf of people receiving social assistance and may apply for an order for spousal support on its own initiative.
 
  
==More information==
+
{| class="wikitable"
*Family Justice Counsellors in Family Justice Centres throughout BC can help couples with understanding spousal support, preparing a separation agreement, and obtaining a support order in Provincial Court (but not Supreme Court). Their services are free. Call 604.660.2421 in the lower mainland, 250.387.6121 in Greater Victoria or toll-free 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC, and ask to speak with a Family Justice Counsellor in the nearest Family Justice Centre.  
+
|align="left"|'''Tip'''
 +
Legal Aid BC’s '''Family Law in BC website''' has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms. You can use these guides to apply for an interim order in [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/get-order-bc/supreme-court/get-interim-family-order-supreme-court-if#0 Supreme Court] or [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/get-order-bc/provincial-court/get-interim-family-order-provincial-0#0 Provincial Court].
 +
|}
  
*See the [http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life-events/divorce/family-justice Family Justice website].
+
==Common questions==
  
*The laws referred in this script are available at [http://www.bclaws.ca/ www.bclaws.ca] or [http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/ http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca].
+
===Is there a time limit to ask for spousal support?===
 +
It depends on which law you use and whether you’re a married or unmarried spouse. Under the ''Divorce Act'', there’s no time limit. A married spouse can ask for spousal support '''at any point''' after a divorce. But, in practice, it’s important to apply for spousal support in a timely way.  
  
*See the [http://wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca/index.php/Spousal_Support Spousal Support section] of the ''wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law'', published by Courthouse Libraries BC.
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Under the ''Family Law Act'', married spouses have to start a court action for spousal support '''within two years''' of the date of their divorce or annulment. Unmarried spouses have to start a court action '''within two years''' of the date of their separation.
  
 +
===What can I do if my spouse won’t pay the support?===
 +
If your spouse doesn’t pay the spousal support required by a court order or agreement, the '''Family Maintenance Enforcement Program''' can help. This free BC government program can help you collect the support payments you’re owed. It can monitor a support order to make sure payments continue to be made. For more, [[Enforcing Support Orders and Agreements|see our information on enforcing support orders and agreements]].
  
[updated May 2017]
+
===Can I change a spousal support order?===
 +
What if, after spousal support has been court ordered or agreed to, one spouse has a big change in their financial circumstances — for better or worse? (Examples include a job loss or a wage increase.) In this case, either spouse can apply to change the support order or renegotiate the separation agreement. Generally, the change must be significant. And it can’t have been foreseeable when the support order or agreement was made.
  
'''The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Zahra H. Jimale.'''
+
Note that if you want to change an order and the other spouse lives outside of BC, there is a [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/when-more-one-province-or-country-involved/can-you-change-support-0 specific procedure] to follow under each of the BC ''Family Law Act'' and the federal ''Divorce Act''.
----
 
  
 +
{| class="wikitable"
 +
|align="left"|'''Tip'''
 +
Legal Aid BC’s '''Family Law in BC website''' has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms. You can use these guides to apply to change a spousal support order or a court-filed agreement in [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/change-order-or-set-aside-agreement-made-bc/supreme-court/change-0#0 Supreme Court] or [https://family.legalaid.bc.ca/bc-legal-system/court-orders/change-order-or-set-aside-agreement-made-bc/change-order-or-set-0 Provincial Court].
 +
|}
 +
 +
===What if I’m on income assistance?===
 +
After a couple separates, one spouse might be receiving income assistance from the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. That spouse may want help with getting an agreement or court order for spousal support. In this case, the ministry may step in to help the income assistance recipient. It may ask that spouse to [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/policies-for-government/bcea-policy-and-procedure-manual/general-supplements-and-programs/family-maintenance-services assign their rights to spousal support] to them. The ministry can then help with obtaining or defending a spousal support order or agreement, which can be enrolled with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program for enforcement.
 +
 +
===What are the tax consequences of spousal support?===
 +
Spousal support is considered '''taxable income''' for the spouse who receives it. It counts as a '''tax deduction''' for the spouse paying it. The recipient must report the income to the Canada Revenue Agency and pay tax on it, just like employment income. The payor can claim the payments as a tax deduction, just like RRSP contributions.
 +
 +
For spousal support payments to be taxable and deductible, the payments must be:
 +
 +
* paid because of a written agreement or a court order,
 +
* made on a periodic basis, such as once a month or once every two weeks, and
 +
* actually paid.
 +
 +
Other kinds of support payments — such as those made in a lump sum or “in kind” (that is, paid in services, not money) — aren’t taxable or deductible. It may be necessary to speak to a lawyer to confirm the tax status of spousal support payments.
 +
 +
When you’re figuring out how much spousal support should be paid, keep in mind the tax consequences of support payments. For more on this, [[Tax Implications of Support Payments|see our information on the tax implications of support payments]].
 +
 +
==Who can help==
 +
 +
===Free and low-cost legal help===
 +
'''Family justice counsellors''' in Family Justice Centres throughout BC can help couples understand spousal support, prepare a separation agreement, or help prepare materials to get a support order in Provincial Court. Their services are free.
 +
* Call 604-660-2421 (Lower Mainland),
 +
* Call 1-800-663-7867 (toll-free, Kelowna)
 +
* [https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/life-events/divorce/family-justice Visit website]
 +
 +
Other options for legal help include legal aid, pro bono services, legal clinics, and advocates. [[Free and Low-Cost Legal Help|See our information on free and low-cost legal help]].
 +
 +
===With more information===
 +
Legal Aid BC’s '''Family Law website''' features information on spousal support and has step-by-step guides for going to court in family matters.
 +
 +
* [https://familylaw.lss.bc.ca/finances-support/child-spousal-support/spousal-support Visit website]
 +
 +
The wikibook ''JP Boyd on Family Law'', hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, has in-depth information on spousal support.
 +
 +
* [https://wiki.clicklaw.bc.ca/index.php/Spousal_Support Visit website]
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Latest revision as of 20:52, 12 May 2021

This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Samantha Rapoport, Brown Henderson Melbye in March 2021.

The breakup of a relationship can leave partners on an unequal financial footing. A spouse who’s struggling moneywise may ask the other for help. Learn about spousal support.

Alert!

This information has been updated to reflect changes to the Divorce Act that took effect on March 1, 2021.

What you should know[edit]

What spousal support is for[edit]

Spousal support is money paid by one spouse (the payor) to the other (the recipient) after separation. It’s meant to:

  • help with living costs and ease financial strain the breakup may have caused
  • assist a spouse who’s struggling financially because of the relationship or its breakdown
  • compensate a spouse for their role in the relationship (for example, a spouse who sacrificed their career to care for children)
  • help each spouse become financially independent within a reasonable amount of time

Spousal support is usually paid under an agreement or court order after a relationship ends. This doesn’t automatically happen — you have to apply for spousal support. Anyone who was in a married or unmarried spousal relationship can do so. Each couple’s circumstances will determine how much support is paid, if any.

Who can claim spousal support[edit]

Anyone who qualifies as a spouse can ask for spousal support after separation.

There are two laws that deal with spousal support: the federal Divorce Act and the provincial Family Law Act. Under the federal Divorce Act, spouses are people who are, or were, married to each other.

Under BC’s Family Law Act, spouses are people who:

  • are married,
  • have lived together in a “marriage-like relationshipfor at least two years, or
  • have lived together in a “marriage-like relationship” for less than two years and have a child together.

Married spouses can seek spousal support under either Act. Unmarried spouses can only ask for spousal support under the Family Law Act.

When a spouse can get spousal support[edit]

Many factors determine whether a spouse can get spousal support. Some of these include:

  • Length of the relationship. The longer the relationship, the more likely spousal support will be awarded.
  • Difference in incomes. The greater the difference between the spouses’ incomes at the end of a relationship, the more likely spousal support will be awarded.
  • Economic disadvantage. The worse off financially the relationship has left one spouse, the more likely that spouse will be awarded support. A struggling spouse may have left the workforce to raise a child, for example, leading them to miss out on developing job skills and on getting raises.
  • Earning capacity. The less capable a spouse is of earning an income, the more likely spousal support will be awarded. Earning potential can be limited by things like family obligations (such as providing child care) or a serious illness.

During the relationship, one spouse might have been supporting the other financially. That arrangement doesn’t end at the moment of the breakup. The supporting spouse must continue to help the other. On the other hand, if the spouses have been self-supporting all along, neither spouse is likely to get financial help after separation.

The effect of a spouse’s behaviour on support[edit]

How a spouse acts usually doesn’t matter when it comes to spousal support. So, a spouse can still get support whether they’ve been, say, violent or unfaithful, or a victim of violence.

But, under BC family law, a court can look at how a spouse has acted to see whether:

  • a recipient is taking steps to become self-sufficient, or
  • a payor’s conduct unreasonably affects their ability to pay support (for example, a spouse quits their job so they don’t have to pay support).

How much support a spouse can get[edit]

Support payment amounts are usually based on the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. These guidelines — used by a court or by the parties themselves — help determine how much spousal support should be paid and for how long.

This can get complicated. Especially if the couple has a child. For help, you can use free online calculators, such as mysupportcalculator.ca. They can do simple calculations and give you an idea of how much support you might get.

Both spouses must provide full financial disclosure[edit]

Both spouses must share all details about their financial situation with each other. It doesn’t matter whether they’re in court or trying to settle out of court. (Spouses often complete and exchange financial statements using the forms required by the courts, even when they’re not in a court proceeding.)

Financial statements help the spouses get a complete picture of their property and debts and their income and liabilities. Financial statements are usually provided along with important documents like income tax returns, tax assessments, and copies of financial documents such as bank statements.

How long spousal support is paid for[edit]

Once it’s clear that spousal support is owed, and how much is payable, the next question is: for how long? The answer often depends on how long the spouses were together.

People leaving long relationships might receive spousal support for their whole lives — or at least until the payor of support retires. The courts recognize that the older a person is, the harder it generally is to get back into the workforce or to retrain.

People who’ve been in shorter relationships might receive support for a limited time. This is true especially where the recipient is either working outside the home or capable of working outside the home.

Each spouse is expected to make reasonable efforts to support themselves. For example, a spouse may need job training before going back to work. In that case, support payments may be limited to the time needed to complete that training.

How to get spousal support[edit]

Spouses can make arrangements for spousal support in a separation agreement. If they can’t agree, one of them can apply to court for a spousal support order.

Which court to go to[edit]

A married spouse can apply for spousal support in:

  • BC Supreme Court, under the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act, or
  • the Provincial Court, under the Family Law Act.

An unmarried spouse can apply for spousal support in either the Supreme Court or the Provincial Court under the Family Law Act.

Each court has its own rules and forms. For Provincial Court, see our information on Provincial (Family) Court.

Getting “interim” support[edit]

While the court case is ongoing, either spouse may ask the court for an interim order for spousal support. This is a temporary order meant to last until the case is settled or goes to trial. For more on interim orders in Supreme Court, see our information on applying for an interim order in a family law case in Supreme Court.

When determining whether to make an order for interim support, the court will look at the “means and needs” of the parties. That is: does the recipient have the need for support, and does the payor have the means to pay?

Tip

Legal Aid BC’s Family Law in BC website has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms. You can use these guides to apply for an interim order in Supreme Court or Provincial Court.

Common questions[edit]

Is there a time limit to ask for spousal support?[edit]

It depends on which law you use and whether you’re a married or unmarried spouse. Under the Divorce Act, there’s no time limit. A married spouse can ask for spousal support at any point after a divorce. But, in practice, it’s important to apply for spousal support in a timely way.

Under the Family Law Act, married spouses have to start a court action for spousal support within two years of the date of their divorce or annulment. Unmarried spouses have to start a court action within two years of the date of their separation.

What can I do if my spouse won’t pay the support?[edit]

If your spouse doesn’t pay the spousal support required by a court order or agreement, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program can help. This free BC government program can help you collect the support payments you’re owed. It can monitor a support order to make sure payments continue to be made. For more, see our information on enforcing support orders and agreements.

Can I change a spousal support order?[edit]

What if, after spousal support has been court ordered or agreed to, one spouse has a big change in their financial circumstances — for better or worse? (Examples include a job loss or a wage increase.) In this case, either spouse can apply to change the support order or renegotiate the separation agreement. Generally, the change must be significant. And it can’t have been foreseeable when the support order or agreement was made.

Note that if you want to change an order and the other spouse lives outside of BC, there is a specific procedure to follow under each of the BC Family Law Act and the federal Divorce Act.

Tip

Legal Aid BC’s Family Law in BC website has self-help guides that include step-by-step instructions and blank forms. You can use these guides to apply to change a spousal support order or a court-filed agreement in Supreme Court or Provincial Court.

What if I’m on income assistance?[edit]

After a couple separates, one spouse might be receiving income assistance from the BC Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. That spouse may want help with getting an agreement or court order for spousal support. In this case, the ministry may step in to help the income assistance recipient. It may ask that spouse to assign their rights to spousal support to them. The ministry can then help with obtaining or defending a spousal support order or agreement, which can be enrolled with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program for enforcement.

What are the tax consequences of spousal support?[edit]

Spousal support is considered taxable income for the spouse who receives it. It counts as a tax deduction for the spouse paying it. The recipient must report the income to the Canada Revenue Agency and pay tax on it, just like employment income. The payor can claim the payments as a tax deduction, just like RRSP contributions.

For spousal support payments to be taxable and deductible, the payments must be:

  • paid because of a written agreement or a court order,
  • made on a periodic basis, such as once a month or once every two weeks, and
  • actually paid.

Other kinds of support payments — such as those made in a lump sum or “in kind” (that is, paid in services, not money) — aren’t taxable or deductible. It may be necessary to speak to a lawyer to confirm the tax status of spousal support payments.

When you’re figuring out how much spousal support should be paid, keep in mind the tax consequences of support payments. For more on this, see our information on the tax implications of support payments.

Who can help[edit]

Free and low-cost legal help[edit]

Family justice counsellors in Family Justice Centres throughout BC can help couples understand spousal support, prepare a separation agreement, or help prepare materials to get a support order in Provincial Court. Their services are free.

  • Call 604-660-2421 (Lower Mainland),
  • Call 1-800-663-7867 (toll-free, Kelowna)
  • Visit website

Other options for legal help include legal aid, pro bono services, legal clinics, and advocates. See our information on free and low-cost legal help.

With more information[edit]

Legal Aid BC’s Family Law website features information on spousal support and has step-by-step guides for going to court in family matters.

The wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, has in-depth information on spousal support.

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