Patrick Dempsey Divorce: Spousal Support

Early this year, Patrick Dempsey's wife filed for divorce after 15 years of marriage. Dempsey is best known for his starring role as Dr. Derek "McDreamy" Sheppard on Grey's Anatomy. Now, Radar Online claims the reason for his divorce and for his character being killed off the show is because he had an inappropriate relationship with a young woman on the set of Grey's Anatomy.

It is reported that Dempsey earned about $350,000 per episode and that his net worth is $40 million. As such, his wife, Jillian Fink, may be entitled to a substantial amount of spousal and child support. There are three children of the marriage, namely 12 year old twins and a 7 year old.

The purpose of spousal support is to recognize the reality that, over time, most spouses merge their economic lives and make financial decisions together. Where the parties decide that one parent is to be primarily responsible for the domestic duties and caring for the children, spousal support compensates that parent for the sacrifices that he or she made for the benefit of the family.

If Dempsey and Fink's divorce case was in Canada, Fink would first have to establish entitlement to spousal support. There are three bases for entitlement:

  1. Compensatory: to compensate a spouse for hardship or opportunities lost due to marriage or marriage breakdown;
  2. Contractual: where the parties had an express or implied agreement that the parties would be responsible for each other's support; and
  3. Non-compensatory (needs-based): to assist a spouse in financial need. Although the marriage or its breakdown may not have contributed to the former spouse's financial need, a court can order a spouse to pay spousal support if he or she has the ability to pay.

Given the above, Jilian would likely be entitled to spousal support from Dempsey on a compensatory basis as the parties' did not have a prenuptial agreement.

Once a spouse has established entitlement, Canada's Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines provide the appropriate range of spousal support both in terms quantum (i.e. the amount of support) and duration (i.e. the period of time that support should be paid). In the case of couples without dependent children, the primary considerations that affect the quantum and duration of spousal support are (1) the number of years the parties cohabited, and (2) the difference between the spouses' gross annual incomes.

Where a couple has dependent children, child support always takes priority over spousal support. A spouse may be entitled to spousal support in addition to child support depending on factors such as the difference between the parties' disposable income, length of cohabitation, the responsibilities of each spouse during cohabitation, and the effect of childrearing on the spouse's earnings and career potential. The lower income spouse will typically receive spousal support so that children do not experience a significant difference in standard of living between their parents' households. The quantum of spousal support is generally higher where the parties have very young children and/or the parties were married for a long time. However, since Patrick may only be earning investment income it is possible that he may not pay spousal support as his spouse would receive a significant equalization payment under Ontario Law.

Spousal support awards vary considerably from couple to couple, and it is difficult to predict what a Court might consider reasonable and just in each case. The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines give possible ranges of spousal support, but Courts have discretion in determining the quantum and duration of a spousal support award. This is particularly so for high-income earners, like Dempsey, who earn more than $350,000 a year as the Spousal Support Advisory Guideline are only for incomes up to $350,000.00.

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