Spousal support claims can be complex and often context-specific. When adjudicating a spousal support claim, Alberta Courts will examine factors such as the parties’ respective incomes, age, earning potential, roles and responsibilities during the relationship, division of family property, and whether there is a child(ren). There is no defined list of factors that must exist to support a spousal support claim; rather, certain factors may influence the range of spousal support awarded after being viewed holistically in the context of both spouses’ life and financial circumstances.
Following separation or divorce, it is common for parties to find new life partners. This “re-partnering” is one factor that a court may consider relevant in determining a spousal support claim or variation. Re-partnering may impact a recipient’s entitlement to support as well as the quantum/duration of those spousal support payments.
To understand how re-partnering may affect spousal support entitlement, there must be an understanding of the three grounds for spousal support – compensatory, non-compensatory, and contractual spousal support.
Basis for Entitlement
Compensatory support is an entitlement that arises when one spouse suffers an economic disadvantage following the breakdown of a relationship as a result of the roles adopted during the relationship. Entitlement to compensatory support may also arise in instances where a recipient has conferred an economic benefit on the payor during the course of the relationship, and the recipient has not been adequately compensated. Common examples of compensatory entitlement include occasions where a recipient of support has sacrificed their career to provide childcare, moved cities for their partner’s career, or provided financial support for their partner’s education and training.
Non-compensatory support, sometimes referred to as ‘needs-based support,’ typically arises when former spouses have substantial differences in their respective standard of living. Non-compensatory support is analyzed by examining the needs of the recipient and the means of the payor to provide support. When one spouse cannot meet their basic needs following the breakdown of a relationship, and the other spouse has the means to provide financial support, the court may award non-compensatory support.
Entitlement to non-compensatory support may also be found in circumstances where a recipient is able to meet their basic needs but, due to the relationship breakdown, has suffered a substantial decline in their standard of living from that which they had grown accustomed to during the relationship. When looking at non-compensatory support holistically, the court will examine factors such as length of the relationship / marriage, drop in standard of living after separating, the economic hardship suffered by a party, and the ability of one party to provide financial support to the other.
Contractual support is the third and final category of spousal support entitlement. Contractual entitlement is based on the legal agreements made between the parties such as prenuptial agreements or cohabitation agreements. Most often, the contractual agreements made between the parties will provide a framework for determining spousal support and the legal mechanisms and procedures for adjudicating disputes relating to the contents of the agreement.
The above-described categories of spousal support relate to the “entitlement stage” for determining spousal support claims. If the spouse claiming support proves that they have an entitlement under one of the three categories, the second stage of the analysis will seek to determine quantum and duration – how much support and for how long should it be paid.
The Impact of Re-partnering
When a recipient re-partners following separation, the court may consider how the new relationship impacts entitlement to spousal support. If entitlement still exists after considering the recipient’s re-partnering, the court will determine whether such re-partnering should lower the quantum and/or shorten the duration of monthly support payments.
Non-compensatory claims are more likely to be affected by re-partnering than compensatory claims. Because non-compensatory spousal support is awarded on a “needs and means” basis, support obligations may be reduced or eliminated if the recipient’s new partner has the means to provide for the recipient’s needs. Similarly, if the recipient enters a relationship that allows them to resume their pre-separation standard of living, the court will be less inclined to award non-compensatory support.
In circumstances where a spousal support claim is based on compensatory grounds, re-partnering is less consequential. Compensatory spousal support is based on the premise that the recipient supported the payor’s career by assuming responsibilities that negatively impacted their own earning potential. Hence, compensatory entitlement aims to compensate recipients for their past sacrifices and is not drawn exclusively from the current circumstances of the parties. For this reason, courts are more reluctant to lower or cancel compensatory spousal support payments, as this would effectively waive the payor’s obligation to fully compensate the recipient for the career sacrifices performed during the family and economic partnership.
Regardless of the type of spousal support entitlement claimed, the court will consider how re-partnering after separation, as well as countless other life and financial circumstances, should impact a recipient’s claim to spousal support. At Family Central Law Office LLP, we can assist you in evaluating your entitlement or obligation regarding spousal support. We can help to effectively manage the litigation process for you while working towards a cost-effective resolution. To learn more about the legal services we provide, please contact us today for a free consultation with one of our experienced family lawyers by calling our office at (587)392-7970 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by clicking on our consultation page.