News of the breakup between actor Jon Hamm and actress Jennifer Westfeldt hit the stands September 7, 2015. This Hollywood couple had persevered through the challenges of fame, busy careers, and Hamm's recent time in rehabilitation for alcohol abuse. However, Hamm and Westfeldt ultimately decided to end their 18-year relationship and they have recently announced their separation.
Despite reports that the separation is amicable, Hamm and Westfeldt will now surely face the daunting task of rearranging their affairs to adapt to single life. Additionally, this difficult transition period may take a greater toll on the former couple due to potential financial consequences exacerbated by the circumstances and long duration of their relationship.
Entitlement to Spousal Support
The financial and other implications of separation warrant special consideration when entering into or ending a long-term relationship wherein the parties remain unmarried. Important issues must be dealt with when unmarried couples like Hamm and Westfeldt separate. For Ontario couples in similar circumstances, one of the central issues is often spousal support obligations and entitlement. Quantum and duration of support would also be at issue should entitlement be established.
Section 3(8) of Ontario's Family Law Act ("FLA") provides for entitlement to support for a "spouse". Entitlement to spousal support can be established under section 3(8) of the FLA based on the following:
- the spouse's contribution to the relationship and the economic consequences of the relationship for the spouse (Compensatory basis); and/or
- the obligation to make fair provision to assist one's spouse to become able to contribute to his or her own support (Needs basis).
Inadvertently becoming a "Spouse"
Couples in situations like Hamm and Westfeldt might be under the misconception that being unmarried means a person would not have the support obligations or entitlements that can arise from a marriage. However, section 29 of the FLA defines "spouse" for the purposes of support provisions to include the following:
- couples who have cohabitated continuously for at least 3 years; or
- couples in a relationship of some permanence and are the natural or adoptive parents of a child.
Therefore, support provisions such as section 33 of the FLA (which address the issue of quantum of support) applies to both married and unmarried spouses.
Financial Consequences and Considerations for Unmarried Spouses
Even couples without children, if in a relationship like that of Hamm and Westfeldt could likely establish entitlement to support based on their circumstances given a lengthy period of cohabitation. Ontario Courts consider the facts and circumstances of each case in determining support entitlement, quantum, and duration. Sufficient circumstances to warrant support entitlement commonly arise from lengthy periods of cohabitation and the fact that a relationship was 18 years long could be a significant factor in increasing the duration over which spousal support must be paid.
It is important to note that Canadian Courts generally make decisions regarding spousal support in accordance with the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines ("SSAG"). Though the SSAG are not mandatory, SSAG calculations are generally accepted by the courts and frequently relied on by parties negotiating with respect to the quantum and duration of spousal support.
For long-term couples who have been together as long as Hamm and Westfeldt, who have made life decisions based on the relationship or who gave up career opportunities or made other sacrifices in order to stand by each other during difficult times (such as Hamm's recent rehabilitation), an Ontario Court could likely find a compensatory basis for support entitlement even if neither spouse established a needs basis for support.