Understanding the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines

In Ontario, once spouses decide to separate as a first step towards divorcing each other, they embark a complex (and often lengthy) process of unwinding their financial affairs.   This includes the division of their shared family assets, and frequently includes an obligation being imposed on a higher-earning spouse to pay spousal support to a lower-earning spouse, in order to redress some of the financial inequalities that arose during the relationship.

Unfortunately, the question of precisely how much spousal support is owed in any given case had for many years been surrounded by some uncertainty, because the Ontario courts’ approach to that determination was frequently inconsistent.  Individual support amounts were determined on a case-by-case basis, after the court considered numerous factors.   Similar-seeming cases ended up with different spousal support outcomes.

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, which were published by the federal government in 2008, are an attempt to impose some regularity and predictability on this process.   As the name suggests, they are not mandatory in nature, but rather are a tool by which individuals, their lawyers, and the courts might be able to reach a fair and comparatively uniform spousal support determination in any individual case.

The spousal support amounts are calculated using a comprehensive-but-flexible “formula”, with consideration given to various factors and policy-based objectives that have been agreed by lawmakers to affect support entitlement. For example, the Guidelines set out different support calculations to be applied to couples with children, as opposed to those without. It also takes into account the length of the marriage, the parties’ relative incomes, and any long-term financial disadvantage that one spouse may have endured as a result of the decisions made during the marriage (for example, the decision that one spouse will leave a career in order to care for the children).   Once these factors are taken into account as part of the Guidelines’ “formula” calculation, the parties and their lawyers can arrive at a rational and fair determination on the duration and amount of support that one spouse may owe to the other.

For more information on how the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines work, or on how they may affect your particular situation, please feel free to contact our office.

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