When a married couple or adult interdependent partners separate or divorce in Alberta, the topic of spousal support or “alimony” invariably comes up.
The transition from living together and supporting each other to living an independent and self-sufficient life can create a difficult financial burden for some people.
Both federal and provincial acts protect you from financial hardship if you separate from your partner and these laws are explained below.
Learn More → How to terminate your spousal support in Alberta
Table of Contents
- What is spousal support (alimony)?
- What factors are considered when calculating spousal support?
- Can common-law partners receive spousal support in Alberta?
- How much spousal support am I entitled to?
- How long will I receive spousal support?
What is spousal support (alimony)?
“Alimony” is the traditional name for the type of financial support paid by a higher-earning spouse to a lower-earning spouse after divorce. It is usually called spousal support these days.
The support is intended to ease the transition to self-sufficient life and prevent the lower-earning spouse from becoming a burden on society. Depending on the length of the marriage and other factors, it may be an indefinite or temporary arrangement.
Both the federal Divorce Act of Canada and the Family Law Act of Alberta refer to the main purposes of spousal support:
- Relieve any financial difficulties of the parties that may be brought from the end of the marriage
- Allow the spouses the time to ensure financial independence
- Mediate any financial consequences arising from child care that goes beyond child support
Once the entitlement to support has been established, the next step is to calculate the amount of support payable and its duration.
What factors are considered when calculating spousal support?
The Alberta courts will consider a variety of factors when calculating the amount and duration of support.
Judges will also refer to a set of federal spousal support guidelines from the Department of Justice (unlike child support guidelines, these are for advisory purposes only — they are not law).
You and your partner will need to provide documentation to the court that proves your financial circumstances and other important details about your marriage and your present situation.
Based on information about your income, expenses, and assets, the court will build a profile of the respective financial positions of each partner.
You may require help from a lawyer to gather and present this information as full financial disclosure is required. If it is not provided, the court may award costs against the responsible party.
You should locate documents such as tax returns and tax status forms from the past three years, wage slips or other proof of income, a list of monthly expenses (with receipts), and a list of assets and debts.
Additional items may include evidence of medical problems that affect your ability to earn an income or evidence of educational commitments if this is the reason that you cannot work.
If you are eligible to receive support, in addition to your respective financial positions at the time of the support application, the court will consider the following when calculating amounts:
- The duration of the marriage
- The contributions of each partner to the marriage (was one partner the main earner and the other the homemaker/caregiver for the children?)
- The presence of a prenuptial or other marriage agreement that addresses spousal support
- The employment prospects of the lower-earning partner
- The age and health status of each spouse
- Any other outstanding support obligations for either party (like child support)
Can common-law partners receive spousal support in Alberta?
Most of the above information refers to “marriage” and “spouses”. However, the Family Law Act also governs adult interdependent partnerships (AIPs) or common-law partnerships.
To establish an AIP in Alberta, the partners must meet one of the following criteria:
- Cohabitation in a “relationship of interdependence” for at least three years
- Cohabitation in a “relationship of interdependence” with some sense of permanence if less than three years and the parties share a child by birth or adoption, or
- A signed Adult Interdependent Partnership agreement with each other
Partner support obligations may apply to the higher-earning partner when AIP relationships break up but proof of AIP status will be required by the court.
How much spousal support am I entitled to?
There is no single answer to the question of how much spousal support a spouse or partner will receive. It depends entirely on your circumstances at the time of the separation or divorce.
A wide income disparity alone does not guarantee an entitlement to support, though it is often the case. Remember, spousal support is intended to prevent economic disadvantages caused by the end of a relationship and not to punish. The maximum spousal support possible will result in the two parties having equal incomes.
In Alberta, two basic formulae are used when calculating how much support is due:
If there are no children from the relationship
A range of support may be due depending on the gross incomes of the partners:
- The low-end amount is the difference between the gross incomes of the parties multiplied by .015 — this number is then multiplied by the number of years they have lived together.
- The high-end amount is the difference between the gross incomes of the parties multiplied by .02 — this number is then multiplied by the number of years they have lived together.
If there are children from the relationship
Calculating spousal support when child support is payable is complex due to different custody arrangements and other factors. It usually requires special software.
For a guideline, you can take the net disposable incomes of each of the parties, after taxes, deductions and childcare expenses, to leave 40-46 percent of the total to the recipient of spousal support.
If you need a more accurate estimate, speak to one of our lawyers to discuss your precise circumstances. Note that child support takes precedence over spousal support if the payor spouse has payment issues.
How long will I receive spousal support?
Generally speaking, if you had no children, you can expect support to be paid for a maximum of one year for every year you lived together.
If you have children together, spousal support may continue until the children complete high school or for a maximum of one year for every year you lived together (whichever is greater).
However, if you lived together for at least 20 years or the total of adding the years lived together and the recipient’s age is more than 65, spousal support may be awarded indefinitely.
If your relationship has ended and you have questions or concerns about spousal support, speak to an experienced family lawyer at Jennings Family Law in Calgary for a free case evaluation.