Spousal Support

When a relationship ends, spouses (whether married or “common-law”) may have a responsibility to support each other financially. The extent of this responsibility depends on the financial and personal circumstances of the individuals involved, including income prior to and after the separation.

In order for a “common-law” spouse to be eligible for spousal support, the couple must have lived together for at least 3 years, unless they had a child together, in which case they may be eligible for spousal support even if they lived together for a shorter period of time, as long as their relationship was one of “some permanence”.

Spousal support is intended to achieve a number of objectives, including:
• recognizing each spouse’s contributions to the relationship
• recognizing the economic consequences of the relationship and its breakdown for each spouse
• sharing the financial consequences of caring for any children of the relationship
• relieving any economic hardship arising from the breakdown of the relationship, and
• helping each spouse achieve self-sufficiency within a reasonable period of time.

Determining the appropriate spousal support arrangement for any particular case is not as simple as considering each person’s means and needs. Other factors that are relevant include:
• the length of the relationship
• whether there are any children of the relationship and, if there are, what kind of arrangements have been made for their care
• the roles played by each spouse during the relationship
• the age of each spouse at the end of the relationship, and
• each spouse’s financial situation.

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG) offer assistance regarding the amount and duration of support that may be appropriate once entitlement to support has been established. However, unlike the Child Support Guidelines, the amounts suggested by the SSAG are not mandatory, but rather serve as a starting point for the analysis or negotiations in any particular case.

Spousal support may be payable for a set period of time, or it may continue indefinitely. An existing agreement or Court Order for spousal support may be reviewed or changed in certain circumstances.

Spousal support that is paid on a periodic basis (e.g. monthly) is taxable as income for the person receiving it, and tax deductible for the person paying it. This is different from child support, which does not have the same tax consequences. If spousal support is paid all at once in a lump sum, it is not taxable or tax-deductible.

Spousal support payments may be enforced by Ontario’s Family Responsibility Office (FRO), if they are required by a Court Order or by a Separation Agreement that is filed with the court. If the spouse who is supposed to be paying child support misses payments, FRO can take action to collect the amount that is owing, including having the payments automatically deducted from his or her wages.

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