Grace and Frankie: Life after Divorce

On May 8, 2015, Netflix released the first season of the original series, Grace and Frankie. The hysterical show follows Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin as Grace and Frankie, as they come to grips with being single in their 70s. Their husbands, played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, are prominent divorce lawyers who recently admit to their wives that they are in love with each other and planning to marry. Entertainment Weekly recently reported that the series has already been renewed for a second season.

The characters in Grace and Frankie are separating after nearly 40 years of marriage. In Canada, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines provide that spousal support may be of an indefinite duration if the spouses lived together for 20 or more years. This is known as "the Rule of 20." Likewise, spousal support will be indefinite if the marriage lasted five years or longer, when the years of marriage and age of support recipient (at separation) added together total 65 or more. This is known as "the Rule of 65." For example, if the parties were married for 15 years and separated when the intended support recipient was 50, a spousal support order will be indefinite (time not specified). The couples in Frankie and Grace would satisfy both tests for indefinite spousal support.

However, prior to a Court considering the duration and quantum of support, the Court must find that a spouse is entitled to such support. In Ontario, there are three grounds of entitlement:

  • compensatory,
  • contractual, and
  • non-compensatory (needs-based).

Once a spouse has established entitlement on any of these grounds, the parties may rely on the Guidelines to help determine the appropriate quantum and duration of support. The parties must consider a variety of factors including

  • the strength of the compensatory claim, if any;
  • whether there are dependent children of the marriage;
  • the recipient's needs because of limited income, earning capacity and/or age;
  • the ability of the support payor to pay;
  • property division between the parties; and the parties' debts.

Spousal support awards vary considerably from case to case and many family law lawyers use specialized software to calculate spousal support. If the parties can co-operate with one another, they can negotiate a private settlement agreement relating to all issues incidental to divorce such as spousal support, division of property, child support, and child custody and access. In the event that the parties cannot agree to the terms of an agreement, either of the spouses may commence an Application to have the Court decide the issues.

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