Making A Solid Case For Spousal Support

Although you may still have some positive feelings about your soon-to-be ex-spouse, your first priority in a divorce is to make sure you land in a stable place emotionally and financially. One way to ensure you have enough money to take care of your needs is to pursue spousal support. Although Canada has established federal guidelines regulating when support is granted and the amount provided, there are things you can do to increase your chances of receiving an award for alimony.

Establishing Entitlement For Support

Before any calculations are done to determine how much your ex-spouse should pay or judgments on the length of time they are required to send you monthly checks, you must establish to the court's satisfaction that you are entitled to spousal support. There are two ways entitlement can be established: based on need and/or as compensation for concessions or contributions made during the marriage.

Need-Based Spousal Support

Proving entitlement for spousal support based on need is fairly straightforward, particularly in marriages where there is a significant income disparity between partners. For example, you are far more likely to receive support if your spouse made $100,000 per year but you only earned $25,000. People who have been married for long periods of time (e.g. 10+ years) are also more likely to be awarded support, particularly if they are older or retired (or close to retirement).

However, even if there isn't a big disparity between you and your spouse's incomes, you may still be awarded support if you can prove you are unable to afford a reasonable lifestyle on your paycheck alone. If you're trying to eke out a living in Toronto (the 32nd most expensive place to live in the world where the average rent is $2,349) on a salary of $30,000 a year, for example, your ex-spouse may be required to chip in a little to help. In this case, submitting a budget highlighting shortfalls caused by the loss of your spouse's contributing income may work in your favor.

Be aware, though, that any award for child support will be factored into the spousal support judgment. The amount of assets you own or are awarded in the divorce will also impact your entitlement to spousal support and the amount.

Compensatory Spousal Support

The other way entitlement can be established is to prove you made concessions in the marriage that impacted your earning capacity. When children enter the picture, for example, many times one spouse will reduce his or her work hours or exit the workforce completely to be the kids' primary caregiver. Proving this concession had a direct impact on your opportunities for career advancement and increased income (e.g. you'd be earning $100,000 a year as a dentist instead of $35,000 as a hygienist) may be enough to establish that you are entitled to spousal support as compensation for the loss.

The court may help you determine how much you could be earning if you hadn't made those concessions by ordering you to go through vocational testing and enlisting the help of an expert to research and calculate what you would earn based on the results. If the court doesn't offer this option to you, you should speak to your attorney about getting an independent evaluation to submit to the judge.

Another common occurrence is when one spouse provides an economic benefit to the other spouse that enhanced his or her earning potential. For instance, you did graphic design work for your spouse for free to help minimize his or her business costs. The court may view that as something you should be compensated for and award you spousal support commensurate with the amount of money you would have earned had you been paid for the work.

In this case, you'll need to provide evidence of the economic benefit you provided to your spouse such as invoices, receipts, contracts or a detailed accounting of any work you did for your husband or wife. Your attorney can also provide assistance by subpoenaing any relevant records your spouse may have.

Calculating Your Award

Both lawyers and judges use the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines to calculate the amount of alimony you should receive. Be aware, though, that judges only take the calculated amount under advisement. The judge may give you more or less depending on the circumstances of your particular case, your finances and your ex-spouse's ability to pay. It's best to work with your divorce lawyer to develop a strategy for obtaining the maximum award possible to ensure your financial needs are taken care of.