Divorce doesn’t carry the stigma it once did, and second (and even third or fourth) marriages are not all that uncommon today.
While many exes are happy to see their former partner begin a new romantic adventure, they may also be wondering if a second marriage could help them. More specifically, as a support-paying divorced person, does the obligation to pay support come to an end if the ex decides to remarry?
The answer – as with many legal questions around the topic of family law – is that “it depends”. One thing is for certain: Your ex’s remarriage never automatically brings an end to your support obligations. But exactly how it may affect them will usually hinge on why you have been ordered to pay spousal support to your ex in the first place.
How is spousal support calculated?
Before diving into the legal mechanics of the fuller answer, it is important to have an understanding of how your support-paying obligations to your ex are initially determined and calculated, once you decide to separate and divorce.
Spousal support is a concept arising primarily under federal divorce legislation, but also under provincial law, depending on your circumstances. Either way, the essential concepts and financial elements remain the same. Spousal support simply represents money paid from one of you to the other once you separate or divorce, under either a court order or your own agreement.
Assuming you are the spouse required to pay, the spousal support you remit to your ex is designed to address three main objectives:
- To recognize the economic advantages and disadvantages to each of you that arises from your marriage and its breakdown;
- To relieve any economic hardship that arises because of your marriage breakdown; and
- To promote the idea that each of you must be as self-sufficient as possible, now that the marriage has ended.
When making an order requiring you to pay spousal support to your ex, a court takes these objectives into account, as well as your respective contributions during the relationship. It then crafts a spousal support order that it feels will best meet these goals. When setting the specific amount and duration of support that you should pay, the court looks at a combination of well-established legal factors that fall into two conceptual categories.
The first is referred to as a “needs and means” analysis, and requires a court to consider:
- Your ex’s actual need for support, arising from his or her economic disadvantage resulting from your relationship; and
- Your own ability to pay your ex that required support.
The second type of analysis focuses on compensating your ex for any lost career opportunities or other disadvantage he or she may have suffered as a result of your relationship and its subsequent breakdown. For example, this part of the court’s scrutiny may look at whether your ex was disadvantaged during the relationship because he or she left a career path to take on the bulk of the child-rearing duties. If the court finds this was the case, it may calculate and structure the spousal support order to take your ex’s resulting economic disadvantage into account.
Needless to say, with all of these considerations and goals, the calculation of a spousal support entitlement is highly-complex. But at its simplest – if you are the higher-earning spouse then there is a chance you will be required to pay spousal support to your ex upon separation and divorce, especially if there is a large difference in your income levels.
How does my ex’s remarriage impact my obligations?
If you have been ordered by a court to pay your ex spousal support, then his or her second marriage to another partner can often – but not always – have an impact on your financial obligations.
Instead, the outcome is decided case-by-case, and depends on numerous factors that a court will examine. Predominantly, it will hinge on what the legal conceptual basis for your ex’s receipt of support was when the original order was made.
If your duty to pay support to your ex was predicated on addressing his or her state of need due to the marriage and its breakdown (rather than to compensate for economic disadvantage), then your ex’s decision to re-marry may trigger a reduction in the amount that you are required to pay. This is because – depending on the standard of living in your ex’s new household – his or her remarriage may have diminished or eliminated that state of need, in which case a court may be prompted to adjust the level of your own support obligations accordingly.
On the other hand, if the original order to pay your ex spousal support was based largely on compensatory factors, then the court will then examine the current-day factors (including your ex’s new standard of living) but will remain mindful of the more historic impact of your marriage and divorce, including the length of time you and your ex were married, his or her current age, broader self-sufficiency prospects, and so on.
Again, there are no hard-and-fast rules, nor a reliable formula to apply to your facts.