What is Spousal Support and How Does it Work?


What is Spousal Support?

Spousal support is a sum of money (usually paid monthly, sometimes paid in a one-time lump sum) that is paid from one ex-spouse to another after separation.  You may sometimes hear people refer to spousal support as “alimony”: this is the American term.  The reasons for providing spousal support are listed in the Family Law Act, the legislation that governs family law in BC, at section 161:

(a) To recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the spouses arising from the relationship between the spouses or the breakdown of that relationship;

(b) To apportion between the spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of their child, beyond the duty to provide support for the child;

(c) To relieve any economic hardship of the spouses arising from the breakdown of the relationship between the spouses;

(d) As far as practicable, to promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time.


How is Spousal Support Amounts Determined?

There is a two-step process for determining whether a person should pay spousal support to his or her ex-spouse:

  1. The person seeking spousal support must first be deemed to have entitlement to spousal support
  2. Once entitlement is established, we turn to the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines – a government-funded report and calculator – that uses a complicated mathematical formula to determine the amount and the duration of the spousal support


How Long Do I Pay Spousal Support?

The steps to determine entitlement, amount and duration of spousal support can be quite complicated.  In a nutshell, spousal support is highly fact-specific; every situation creates different spousal support numbers and duration because spousal support is determined based on multiple different factors, including but not limited to:

  1. The length of the relationship
  2. The ages of the ex-spouses
  3. The incomes and the income earning potential of the ex-spouses
  4. Whether there are any children and the children’s ages
  5. Whether either ex-spouse is disabled
  6. The roles that either ex-spouse played during the relationship (caregiver or income earner, or a mix of both)
  7. How much family property and family debt each ex-spouse received out of the property and debt division



Tags: Family Law, Spousal Support, Article