Spousal Support Guidelines and Interim Support from a Marriage of Short Duration
Singh v Singh
This case deals with entitlement to interim spousal support in the context of an immigration sponsorship and a short marriage.
After the Singhs married in India, Mr. Singh sponsored his wife’s immigration to Canada as a permanent resident and signed a sponsorship agreement with the Canadian Government to support her for three years from the date of her arrival. They separated seven months into the marriage, just two months after Ms. Singh entered Canada. Ms. Singh asserted that she was callously abandoned after giving up her employment and financial security in India to marry Mr. Singh. He claimed that she married him fraudulently to immigrate.
Ms. Singh wanted him to pay her education costs and $400 per month in interim spousal support, retroactive from date of separation and for another two years. Mr. Singh refused, arguing that she was an independent, educated, and employed woman who neither needed nor was entitled to spousal support.
Justice Price had to determine if Ms. Singh was entitled to interim spousal support, and if so, the appropriate amount and duration. He also consider whether the disruption caused by emigration and the sponsorship obligation undertaken by Mr. Singh justified a deviation from the Spousal Support Guidelines’ formula.
Entitlement to Support
Despite the limits to entitlement imposed on short marriages, Justice Price found that a support order would fulfill the legislative objectives under s. 15.2(6) of the Divorce Act; it would relieve Ms. Singh’s economic disadvantage and hardship from marriage breakdown and help her achieve self-sufficiency.
Ms. Singh faced economic disadvantage from leaving a successful position and career in India for the marriage. Her foreign professional credentials were significantly devalued in Canada as indicated by a comparison of her independent career as marketer, Sales Analyst, and team leader in India to her post-separation job as a sales representative. Her economic hardship arose where she could not maintain a standard of living equivalent to what she had during marriage without financial support from Mr. Singh. By working towards securing accreditation in Canada, support would assist her on taking the most reasonable and available path to self-sufficiency.
Amount and Duration of Support
To determine the quantum of support, courts consider the ‘condition, means, needs, and other circumstances of each spouse.’ Mr. Singh undoubtedly had the ability to pay. When assessing Ms. Singh’s needs, Justice Price noted specifically that Ms. Singh was not intentionally under-employed, but was earning what she was capable of with regard to the limitations of her language proficiency, Canadian work experience, and credentials not recognized in Canada. The two years Ms. Singh would require to become self-supporting while she attended a Canadian marketer accreditation program was a reasonable period for her to expect spousal support.
The immigration sponsorship agreement was relevant consideration in assessing Mr. Singh’s obligations. He undertook a commitment to support Ms. Singh for a three year period. This undertaking was a meaningful and legal obligation under which a court would find that he was required to pay under s. 15(4)(c) of the Divorce Act.
Deviating from the Spousal Support Guidelines
Finally, it was unreasonable and inappropriate to award an amount calculated under the Spousal Support Guidelines given the couple’s financial history and circumstances. The situation fell within two exceptions that permit deviation from the Guidelines: compelling financial circumstances in the interim period, and basic needs/hardship under the ‘without child support’ formula. Justice Price found that awarding the guideline amount would be unfair in the circumstances because:
- As a marriage of very short duration, the guideline formula already reduced Ms. Singh’s support entitlement.
- Ms. Singh’s circumstances were distinguishable from most other short marriages in Canada. She also faces unique economic challenges arising from her emigration to Canada, including language and cultural adjustment.
- Ms. Singh required significantly more time to attain the same level of independence she had in India due to the marriage’s interruption to her career and emigration to Canada.
- The large discrepancy between the parties’ respective income and circumstances.
Justice Price granted Ms. Singh’s request for interim spousal support and education related expenses. Her circumstances merited this exception to applying the Spousal Support Guideline award based on her compelling financial circumstances in the interim period and the hardship separation caused her in meeting her basic needs.