How Does Getting Remarried Affect Spousal Support Payments in Alberta

Spousal support is a major element of many divorce cases in Alberta but recipients of support payments often meet new partners and/or remarry at some point afterward, changing their financial status.

A separation agreement or court order may state that one ex-spouse or adult interdependent partner must make spousal support payments to the other. This is to prevent financial hardship for one of the partners and aid the transition to a self-sufficient life after the relationship ends.

However, remarriage or “re-partnering” may reduce the underlying need for support. So, the question often arises about how the change in relationship status affects support payments. Are you still entitled to support after you remarry or do the payments automatically end?

Here’s what you need to know.

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What is spousal support?

When a marriage or adult interdependent relationship ends, it is generally in most people’s interests (as well as the province of Alberta’s interests) that each party can adequately support themselves and any children from the relationship.

Finances are often shared in such a way that the higher-earning partner pays spousal support to the other. This may be in the form of a lump sum payment but is more commonly a set amount paid monthly for a specific period.

For longer marriages, the payments may be indefinite or considered “indefinite” but this is much rarer.

Both the Divorce Act of Canada and the Family Law Act of Alberta outline the main objectives of spousal support as follows:

  • To appreciate the economic consequences, both advantages and disadvantages, to each spouse as a result of the relationship ending;
  • If there are children involved, to divide financial costs connected with their care, in addition to child support;
  • To reduce financial hardship that may have been caused by the relationship’s end; and
  • To assist in both spouses becoming financially independent within a reasonable timeframe.

It is common in relationships for one spouse to earn more than the other. When the difference is significant and the relationship ends, the financial stability of one individual may be adversely affected. Spousal support is a way to lessen the potential negative consequences of the split.

Sometimes, for instance, one partner may have been responsible mainly for homemaking and raising the children while the other partner worked. Such individuals may be under-skilled for employment and may need to study for additional qualifications to re-enter the workforce.

Spousal support helps with the transition to a single life and ensures that such individuals are not penalized financially by the breakdown of the relationship.

Types of spousal support entitlements

Support awarded in divorce cases is not intended to “punish” one individual or “reward” another for behaviour during the relationship. One’s actions during a marriage are not a factor in assessing eligibility for spousal support in Alberta.

Support is simply meant to stabilize the financial position of the family if and when a relationship splits up. Generally speaking, the longer the marriage and the greater the difference between the earnings of the two spouses, the greater the award. Multiple factors are considered when making this determination.

Entitlement to spousal support in Alberta is usually due to one of the following three reasons:

Compensatory support

Compensatory support is awarded when one spouse suffers an economic disadvantage following the breakdown of a relationship because of the roles they adopted during the relationship.

This is often because one spouse has made financial sacrifices that benefit the other spouse and/or the family and these have not been adequately compensated, e.g., one parent sacrificed his/her career to raise the children, financed the other’s study or moved cities/provinces to benefit the other’s career.

Non-compensatory support

Non-compensatory support is another common type of spousal support. It is also known as “needs-based support” and usually applies when one spouse has a significantly higher income than the other but, together, they enjoy a certain standard of living that meets their needs—and they have become accustomed to it.

The basic needs of the recipient after the relationship ends are weighed up alongside the standard of living that they have become accustomed to and the means of the payor to provide support. A calculation will be made according to this and any other relevant factors.

Contractual support

Sometimes, a prenuptial agreement or other legal agreement is made between partners in a relationship, specifying a certain amount or method of calculating spousal support if the relationship ends.

Provided the agreement is legally binding, the court will usually approve the terms it contains.

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When does spousal support end in Alberta?

The start and end dates of spousal support in Alberta depend on the individual circumstances of each case. There is no set end date or expiry period.

However, when determining spousal support, couples should refer to the Spousal Support Guidelines. Judges in Alberta will also use these to guide decisions about spousal support.

In a relationship with no children (either a marriage or adult interdependent relationship), spousal support will generally last for between six months and a year for each year that the spouses lived together.

If the relationship exceeds 20 years in length or if their years of cohabitation plus the recipient’s age exceeds 65, the payments are usually indefinite.

Additional provisions are made for relationships with children. For shorter marriages, in particular, spousal support may last until the youngest child begins or finishes school, for instance.

What happens to spousal support when you get remarried in Alberta?

Spousal support generally lasts until agreed upon by spouses, ordered by the court or modified by court order.

If significant and material changes to the financial positions of either the paying partner or the recipient occur, these can prompt an application to modify or even terminate spousal support with the Alberta courts. However, termination is never automatic and must be approved or ordered by the court.

One of the most common material changes of circumstances to warrant a termination of spousal support is the remarriage or “re-partnering” of the recipient. Again, this does not automatically end support but it could warrant a re-assessment by a judge, who may reduce, suspend or terminate the need for payments.

The judge will consider all factors, including the standards of living in the new partnership, the age of the payee spouse, the new spouse’s income, and the likelihood of the payee becoming financially independent.

If a payor spouse gets remarried or enters into a new adult interdependent relationship, the spousal support obligation to their former spouse generally still applies.

Note that any payor spouse ordered to pay support by the Alberta courts or through an approved divorce or separation agreement who fails to meet their support obligations can face legal measures to collect these payments.


Spousal support lawyers in Alberta

Keep in mind, reaching an agreement on spousal support independently of the courts is possible, offering greater control over the outcome. Speaking with the family mediators at Jennings Family Law can help you navigate this process, avoiding the uncertainty of court decisions and ensuring a fair resolution tailored to your family’s needs and circumstances.

If you live in the Calgary area and need assistance with spousal support, the experienced lawyers at Jennings Family Law can help you. Book a case evaluation to discuss your situation.

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