Financial Support for an Ex-Spouse

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When spouses get divorced, one spouse can ask the other to pay support. Spousal support is money one spouse pays the other to help meet financial needs. (This kind of support is often commonly called alimony.) 

Support payments can be made in various ways:

  • regular payments, for example, $500 each month
  • a lump-sum payment, for example, one payment of $50,000
  • payment of family expenses, such as rent or mortgage payments

Support payments can be made for various lengths of time:

  • a fixed length of time, for example, $500 each month for five years
  • a period of time with no set end date, for example, $500 each month

How to Get Support Payments

The spouses can agree on the right to support payments and how much one will pay the other. Their agreement can then be converted into a court decision.

Or, one spouse can ask the other for support in a request for divorce, called an "application", or in the reply to this application. 

The spouse can also ask the court to order temporary support payments while waiting for the divorce application to be heard.

What the Judge Considers in a Request for Spousal Support

The judge takes these factors into account when deciding whether a spouse has the right to support payments:

  • the spouses' financial needs, financial resources and the situation of each
  • how long the spouses lived together
  • their roles during the marriage
  • any court decisions or agreements already giving support to one of the spouses, such as a court decision on legal separation 

These factors also affect the amount of the support payments and how long they will be paid.

Sometimes a spouse must pay child support as well as spousal support.

If the spouse can't afford to pay both types of support, child support takes priority over spousal support. 

Example Based on a Real Case

Elise is a doctor and Denis has a degree in accounting. During their marriage, Elise practised medicine and Denis stayed home to care for the children. While Elise focused on her career, Denis was responsible for everything at home. Elise and Denis filed for divorce after 24 years of marriage.

Elise is doing well financially but Denis is not. They lived together for 24 years, which is considered a long marriage. Elise was the breadwinner, while Denis took care of the family. Under this arrangement, Elise had a great career and will also enjoy a comfortable retirement. Denis, on the other hand, is in a tough financial situation. In this case, Denis can get support payments from Elise.

Goals of Support

The judge's decision concerning support payments must meet these goals:

  • consider the financial advantages and disadvantages the marriage or divorce caused each spouse
  • divide the financial consequences of raising the children between the spouses
  • limit the financial difficulties the divorce causes to the spouses
  • encourage each spouse to be financially independent within a reasonable time

Optional Guidelines

To determine how much support one spouse has to pay the other, two Canadian professors have developed mathematical formulas based on the factors the law says to take into account and the goals of the law. This tool is called the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines.

In Quebec, these guidelines

  • are a useful tool,
  • can be used if appropriate but don't have to be, and
  • don't replace a judge's analysis of the spouses' situation.

Getting Help From a Legal Professional

A legal professional can help a spouse with the following questions:

  • if he has a right to support payments or if he has to pay support
  • how much support he can ask for or will have to pay
  • how long the support payments will last

To do this, the legal professional can do the following:

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.

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