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


Jennifer Lin exclusively practises family law, representing numerous clients on matters of spousal support. Visit Jennifer’s profile page to contact her.


Tags: Jennifer M. Lin, Family Law, Spousal Support, Article