The recent 2021 decision of Politis v Politis presents a succinct overview of the effect of re-partnering on an existing spousal support order. Spousal support is only awarded after finding a proper basis for entitlement. In the event the support recipient re-partners, and their need is now being provided for through their new relationship, to what extent would it impact their receipt of support from a prior marriage?
The parties were married for 30 years. During the marriage, the appellant assumed the homemaker and caregiving role while the respondent founded his own professional corporation, working as a civil engineer. The parties did not have any significant assets, with the significant issue at trial being the appellants claim for spousal support. Following their separation, the appellant began cohabiting with her new partner.
At trial, the appellant sought to increase the quantum of the interim support order determined by the earlier motion judge, while extending support for an indefinite period. In contrast, the respondent sought a termination of spousal support and credit for his overpayments made to the date of the trial. The respondent’s position was that his support obligation should now shift to the appellant’s new partner.
Upon revisiting the trial judge’s decision, the Court of Appeal found no issue with her finding of entitlement. The appellant had not been employed since her separation with the respondent, and was diagnosed with Lyme disease, significantly diminishing her ability to re-enter the workforce. Further, the parties had a long-term marriage, and the appellant’s age, health, lack of education and work experience, made it difficult for her to become self-sufficient based on her own income. The trial judge would go on to find entitlement on both a needs-based and compensatory-based basis.
The Court of Appeal’s attention was primarily focused on the impact of the appellant’s re-partnering on the quantum and duration of spousal support. While the appellant argued that the trial judge had erred in not strictly following the calculations made under the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAGs”), the Court of Appeal stated that the trial decision was consistent with the SSAGs overall guidance. Under section 14.7 of the SSAGs, instances of re-partnering could produce circumstances that would require a case-by-case determination of quantum and duration of spousal support. Where the recipient re-partners with an individual with a similar or higher income than the recipient’s prior spouse, spousal support would eventually be extinguished. Re-partnering may also be a sufficient reason to revisit entitlement to support, whereby support may be terminated should entitlement cease.
The Court of Appeal highlighted Section 16 of the SSAGs, stating that re-partnering does not automatically terminate spousal support, but support is often reduced and even terminated in some cases. This will depend on the basis for entitlement to support, whether it be compensatory or non-compensatory, the length of the marriage, the age of the recipient, the duration and stability of the new relationship, and even the standard of living in the recipient’s new household.
In the case at bar, the trial judge had determined that the appellant’s new spouse was providing sufficient benefits and income to provide the appellant with a standard of living at par, or even better, than that which she enjoyed during her marriage with the respondent. As such, the Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s finding that such a stable re-partnership diminished the appellant’s needs-based entitlement to spousal support.
With respect to the appellant’s compensatory basis for entitlement to spousal support, the trial judge determined that the respondent had not yet compensated the appellant for the economic loss she suffered from the breakdown of the relationship. However, despite spousal support being ordered to continue until 2026, the trial judge reduced the amount of support to be paid, based on the appellant’s new partner’s ability to contribute to her needs. The Court of Appeal upheld this approach as being consistent with the overall guidance of the SSAGs.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal provided a helpful overview of the impact of re-partnering on an existing spousal support obligation. Quantum and duration of support can often be reduced, and at times terminated, in the event the new partner can adequately provide for the recipient’s needs. While re-partnership is not automatic in extinguishing spousal support, it may be a basis to revisit entitlement. Should the court determine that entitlement is no longer present given the new partnership, spousal support may be ceased.
For more information, please call us at Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. or contact our firm online.