How Do Self-Sufficiency and Spousal Support Relate to Each Other?


This article discusses the concept of “self-sufficiency” as it relates to spousal support.

Spousal support may be one of the most hotly contested issues in divorce. Most parents can understand the need for child support, the need to divide their marital assets and the need to make custody arrangements for their children. However, when it comes to one spouse making support payments to the other, the parties may rely on the court to settle the dispute.

Several factors go into determining the amount of the spousal support, and they are fairly consistent throughout the country. However, when it comes to duration, the courts often vary in their decisions. The ability of the financially disadvantaged spouse to become self-sufficient often plays a large role in how long the court may order the other spouse to make support payments.

Determining self-sufficiency
According to the Divorce Act, judges should consider the following objectives  when considering an award of spousal support:
- Determining the distribution of financial resources between the parties in relation to raising a child beyond the need for child support
- Determining the financial advantages or disadvantages attributed to each spouse arising out of the marriage or due to its breakdown
- Determining which spouse has the better ability to relieve financial hardships that arise due to the end of the marriage
- Determining the ability of each spouse to achieve financial self-sufficiency in a reasonable time

Even though the Supreme Court of Canada cautioned the courts not to put too much weight on any of these objectives, courts continue to review them when determining awards of spousal support, including how long payments continue. No hard and fast rules apply to making this determination. The unique circumstances of each case require consideration.

Encouraging self-sufficiency
What if the spouse receiving spousal support fails to live within his or her means, refuses to work or chooses to remain underemployed? In other cases, that spouse may make bad investments or may continuously fail at starting a lucrative business. Should spouses continue to receive support under these circumstances?

Upon review, the courts may step down support payments over a specified amount of time in order to encourage the receiving spouse to become financially self-sufficient. If a court determines that a spouse is intentionally remaining underemployed, it may rely on the ability to impute income to a parent under the child support guidelines. Applying this method in spousal support cases may help level the playing field for the paying spouse.

Even though the courts may use methods to inspire a sense of urgency in a spouse receiving support to become financially self-supporting, that does not mean that gainful employment will absolutely end the obligation to pay spousal support. Depending on the length of the marriage, and perhaps other factors, the court may still require payments.

Seeking support
In order to better understand either spouse's options, whether he or she is the payee or the payor, it may prove useful to seek out a thorough review of the situation and any specific circumstances that may affect an award of spousal support in order to determine the best course of action. Once an individual chooses a way forward, an experienced Alberta lawyer may prove invaluable in gathering the appropriate evidence and presenting his or her case to the court.