Colley v. Colley

Factual Background

In 2005, the husband was ordered to pay spousal support of $3,100 per month based on his annual income of $120,000. In 2011, he suffered a stroke, became incapacitated, and his annual income dropped to $53,000 from non-taxable disability benefits.

His wife stopped working in 2009 for alleged medical reasons and began living with a man in 2012 in his home. The wife alleged that her relationship with the man she was now living with was a merely a "landlord-tenant" arrangement. The husband brought a motion to vary support based on the wife's new living arrangements.

Court's Analysis

The onus was on the wife to prove that her relationship was a landlord-tenant arrangement, or the court would logically infer that her relationship with this man was actually a romantic, common-law relationship.

The crux of a landlord-tenant relationship requires the payment of rent. However, the wife never paid him rent. Justice Quinn explained the consequences this living arrangement had on spousal support:

"It is a trite observation that it is not the re-partnering itself that places a prior spousal-support order in jeopardy, but the financial implications for the recipient spouse of the re-partnering."

Justice Quinn also emphasized the important difference between a compensatory and a non-compensatory spousal support order. In particular, he stressed that a compensatory need for spousal support is less likely to be affected by the recipient spouse living with a new partner. In this case, the prior order was silent as to whether there was a compensatory component and it was improper to infer this component.

As the wife did not provide the necessary evidence regarding the financial situation of her new partner, Justice Quinn was disadvantaged when coming to his conclusion. However, he ultimately allowed the variation by inferring that her needs were reduced by that living arrangement, thereby reducing the husband's spousal support obligations to $905.00 per month in 2012, with progressive reductions each year until 2016.

Test

In considering the implications upon a need-based spousal-support order of the re-partnering of a recipient spouse, there are two important questions to ask:

(a) Does the recipient spouse have a present need for support?

(b) Does her new partner have a legal obligation to contribute to her expenses?

Where the prior spousal-support order contains a compensatory component, the following questions are appropriate:

(a) Has the recipient spouse overcome the economic disadvantages arising from her role in the marriage so that there is no basis for continuing compensatory support?

(b) Have compensatory concerns been fully addressed as of the date of the variation?

(c) Should the court reduce or eliminate the need-based portion of the prior order, while maintaining the compensatory portion?

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