Most (but not all) spousal support arrangements have expiry dates or conditions, such as specific events that will end them.
They must be closely followed until then. The Alberta courts do not take kindly to non-compliance with orders and strongly resist making unnecessary changes.
However, they also recognize that circumstances can and do change in life. Even if your spousal support order is active, you may be able to apply to the court to modify or terminate it in certain circumstances.
Let’s look a closer look at the issue of spousal support and how you might be able to terminate your agreement if necessary.
Table of Contents
- What is spousal support?
- When does spousal support usually end in Alberta?
- How can you terminate spousal support early?
- How is spousal support calculated in Alberta?
What is spousal support in Alberta?
Spousal support or “alimony” as it was previously known, is financial support provided by one ex-spouse to another once a marriage or Adult Interdependent Relationship ends in Alberta.
The payments are intended to reduce any financial disparity between the former spouses. They are meant to aid the transition to an independent, self-sufficient life without financial hardship within a reasonable timeframe after the relationship breakup.
When does spousal support usually end in Alberta?
Once a court confirms eligibility for spousal support, it will be up to the judge to decide on the amount and duration of the support, based on the factors outlined above.
How long it is paid generally depends on the length of the marriage and other specific circumstances, but some general rules are as follows:
- It always ends when the recipient of support dies
- It may not end when the payor of support dies if there is life insurance or assets like RRSPs that can continue paying the support
- It may end when the recipient marries or cohabits with someone else – but this is not automatic
- It may end when the payor retires, but this is not automatic
Some spousal support orders or agreements specify an event or date that will trigger the end of support, e.g., when the recipient marries or the payor retires.
If not, then indefinite spousal support has been awarded. That does not mean that it cannot end, but there must either be an agreement between you and your ex-spouse to this effect or a judge will need to decide.
Sometimes, too, there is a review date on a support order, which conveniently opens the door to a modification or termination of support.
How can you terminate spousal support early?
While courts in Alberta will not consider a change or termination of spousal support for a trivial reason, they will usually agree to re-assess the situation if there is a major, material change in circumstances to warrant it.
Here’s how you can attempt to terminate support in four steps.
1. Check your spousal support agreement
Check to see if your spousal support order or the separation agreement you signed with your ex-spouse specifies when the support comes to an end, or if there is a review date.
Most commonly, it will state that a specific event like remarriage of the recipient or graduation from college will end support.
2. Assess whether there has been a material change to your situation
Before going any further, assess whether your change in circumstances constitutes a material and significant enough change for the court to consider your case. You may need legal advice to assess this.
After all, you will be asking the court to change an order that it has already made after reviewing all the evidence.
Unless you can show the court new evidence that your situation has changed so much that the present order is untenable, it will not be terminated.
Examples may include:
- The payor lost his or her job and has not been able to find new employment
- The recipient moved in with another partner who is now providing support
- The recipient was promoted and no longer needs spousal support
- The recipient is now self-supporting because of another financial “boost”
- There have been significant changes relating to the care of the children
3. Discuss the situation with your partner
If you and your ex-spouse are on reasonable terms, it’s best to discuss the situation and come to an amicable agreement to end it.
This can be done face-to-face, with legal counsel present, or through a mediator. Ideally, you reach an agreement and make a new spousal support agreement between you that can be ratified by the court.
If spousal support was decided in your final court order when you were divorced, and you and your partner consent to end it, you must submit the documents proving this and seek a new court order.
4. Apply to the court to terminate spousal support
To begin court action to terminate spousal support, you will need to file a motion to change with your local family court. This usually requires legal assistance.
You will need to explain to a judge why you think spousal support should end based on a significant change of circumstances, such as those outlined above.
A seasoned family lawyer should be able to advise you on whether you have a case and may be able to help you make a more persuasive argument to terminate support.
How is spousal support calculated in Alberta?
Spousal support is provided by the higher-earning spouse to the lower-earning spouse.
Judges can refer to advisory guidelines from Canada’s Department of Justice when ordering spousal support but can exercise a great degree of discretion. As such, they will generally consider the following factors:
- The marriage length
- The financial needs and means of both spouses
- The roles played by each spouse during the marriage e.g., main earner/homemaker – and the financial implications of these roles
- If there are children from the relationship that need caring for
- If there are any orders or agreements already in place for spousal support
If you are unsure how to proceed or if you have a strong enough case to terminate spousal support, speak to a divorce lawyer at Jennings Family Law in Calgary for a free case evaluation.