Alimony or spousal support, are terms of which most of us are familiar. In the United States it is commonly referred to as alimony, in Canada, we cal it. In Scotland, it is called "aliment," in England as "maintenance," in Australia as "spousal maintenance."
Let's look at Bob and Cheryl's situation. Bob and Cheryl met at the University of Victoria. They married right before completing their undergraduate degrees at 22 years old. After that, Cheryl decided to postpone finishing her undergraduate degree so that she and Bob could start their family. Bob went on to medical school and became a specialist in Pediatric Medicine. Bob and Cheryl had two children and Cheryl ended up staying at home with the children while Bob earned the family’s income. After 30 years of marriage, when they separated, there is no question that Cheryl is entitled to alimony or support.
In Bob and Cheryl’s case, it is easy for most people to see why alimony or support is payable. The facts of each case, however, are different. The requirement to pay spousal support may not always be so straight-forward as it is in Bob and Cheryl's situation.
Let’s say Jason and Jennifer got married eight years ago. Jennifer holds a master’s degree in public administration and is a mid-level manager and works with the BC Provincial Government. She earns about $95,000 per year. Jason works in the home care industry and earns approximately $30,000. They have no kids. When they met, Jennifer already had her government job and already had her educational qualifications. Jason already worked in the job he currently holds.
They are both now 38 years old. Now that they are separating will Jennifer be required to pay Jason support to Jason? This is a good question. Our short answer is, yes, but likely only for a relatively short period.
The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines govern the British Columbia Courts. The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines set out the amount of spousal support to be paid based on the parties' incomes and the duration of the payments based on the parties’ length of marriage or cohabitation.
What the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines do not do, however, is determine whether or not a party is entitled to support. Your lawyer must first do an analysis as to entitlement before they look at the amounts and duration of payments.
Unlike the payment of child support, which many people accept as a given when parties separate, there is something positively triggering and upsetting for many who are ordered or required to pay spousal support.
A lot of people think that alimony or spousal support is always paid by the husband to the wife upon divorce or separation. Although this is commonly the case, it is not always the case. The person that pays support is the higher income earning spouse, regardless of gender. If the wife is the higher income earner, then it is she who may end up paying alimony or spousal support to the husband.
At Hemminger Law Group Westshore we often deal with clients who are beside themselves upset at the prospect of having to pay alimony or spousal support. For many, they had no idea that this obligation would arise upon separation with their spouse.
The obligation to pay spousal support can come as a surprise. Most people do not get legal advice about potential spousal support obligations at the commencement of their relationship.
For spousal support to be payable by one party to the other, there first has to be an entitlement to that support.
There are lots of reasons why someone would be entitled to support. The most classic example we always use is the case of the “traditional” marriage. The most common example one spouse (often the wife) has given up her career to raise children while the husband has gone on to develop his career and income significantly.
Written by Val Hemminger, lawyer at Hemminger Law Group Westshore