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Spousal support can be payable to you or your spouse when your marriage or marriage-like relationship ends. However, entitlement to receive spousal support is not automatic. It must first be determined.

There are three ways to determine entitlement to support. One, two or all three of these grounds can support entitlement to support depending on your specific circumstances.

1. Compensatory Spousal Support

The first type of spousal support is compensatory support. Compensatory support is intended to make up for the economic sacrifices that one party made to the marriage or marriage-like relationship. It can include situations where you gave up your career and stepped away from the workforce for a period of time to raise your and your spouse’s children, or where you helped your spouse build up their business. Usually, the longer your marriage or marriage-like relationship and the more intertwined your finances were during the relationship, the more a court is willing to award spousal support that keeps the parties at equal standards of living[1]. In these cases, the court might also divide your family assets in a way that makes your living standards more equitable, or might mix and match awards and division of family assets to achieve this goal.

2. Contractual Spousal Support

The second type of spousal support is contractual support. This means that you and your spouse made a private agreement that provides for someone to receive spousal support. For example, perhaps you and your spouse signed a pre-nuptial or co-habitation agreement, or included that support would be paid in your separation agreement. In these situations a court would likely follow what it says in your contract unless the court thinks the agreement was not fair, or it contradicts the goals of the Divorce Act[2]. A court might also ignore the contract if your circumstances have changed in a way that you did not anticipate since you and your spouse made the agreement. For example, if you have become disabled unexpectedly and as a result, your agreement is not as reasonable as you thought it would be at the time you signed it. Your agreement needs to fit your circumstances and your circumstances might change, so a court may review the contract more than once if there are big changes that unexpectedly occur at different times in your life.

3. Non-compensatory Spousal Support

The last type of spousal support is non-compensatory support. If the impact of the breakdown in your relationship leaves you in a challenging financial circumstance then you may be entitled to receive support based on your need. In this case your spouse would pay you some support[3].

Once someone is entitled to receive spousal support then how much should be paid, and for how long, are determined. And remember, the person who is entitled to receive spousal support generally has a responsibility to take action to become economically self-sufficient, whether by managing their portion of the family property to earn an income, or by working.

[1] Moge v Moge, [1992] 3 SCR 813

[2] Miglin v Miglin, 2003 SCC 24, [2003] 1 SCR 303 (SCC)

[3] Bracklow v Bracklow, [1999] 1 SCR 420