The parties in this matter met in 2001. The father had begun work in the private sector while the mother was a university student. After meeting the father, she transferred to college and eventually became a legal assistant.
The parties got married in 2004 and had three (3) children together who were, at the time this matter was heard, ages 14, 13, and 10. During the birth of each of the parties’ first two (2) children, the mother took maternity leave from her full-time legal assistant job. The father took a parental leave from his government job upon the birth of their third child and the mother became a stay-at-home parent.
While the father was on parental leave, he unsuccessfully attempted to start a business legally growing marijuana. He eventually pivoted to growing lettuce commercially on a small scale with the mother’s assistance. The parties ended up declaring bankruptcy due to a combination of business failures and personal financial adversity.
When the youngest child began school, the mother secured work with the provincial government.
Over the course of the party’s marriage, they shared expenses commensurate with their incomes. It was primarily the father’s responsibility to look after finances. Apart from the party’s ownership of separate bank accounts, there was no evidence that the lives and finances of the parties were anything other than a joint venture.
The parties separated in 2020, which eventually led to the party’s undergoing of litigation. The father had incurred a significant increase in income after the parties separated. His income as of the date of separation was approximately $112,000 while the mother was earning approximately $53,000 and in 2022, the father was earning approximately $144,000 whereas the mother was earning $62,000.
The court dealt with both issues of child support and spousal support in this case. For the purposes of this blog, the focus will remain on the following issues considered:
- Is the mother entitled to receive spousal support?
- What is the appropriate quantum of spousal support given the father’s increase in income post-separation?
The court reviewed the three ways to claim entitlement to spousal support: contractual, compensatory, and non-compensatory.
The mother did not allege contractual entitlement, so the court did not discuss this basis of entitlement.
In considering compensatory entitlement, the court noted that the mother did not put forward evidence capable of establishing lost opportunity arising from the marriage to attain a higher income than the one she had at the time. The court also noted that her departure from the work force was short lived. Therefore, because of the lack of evidence illustrating a loss of opportunity, the court did not find she had a claim for entitlement of spousal support on a compensatory basis.
The court then discussed non-compensatory entitlement to spousal support. The burden for establishing this basis to spousal support lies on the party claiming such entitlement. The court noted that a disparity in income does not automatically give rise to non-compensatory entitlement, however, because in this case the difference between the party’s incomes was significant, they found that an inference of unequal standards of living was more readily available.
Further, the court noted that the duration of the party’s cohabitation (16 years of marriage, and 4 years of cohabitation before that), and the evidence that they were financially integrated, there was a deep interdependency created between the parties.
The court then analysed the party’s living standards post-separation and noted that the father’s standard of living has been consistently and significantly higher since the couple separated. He had been able to keep both parties’ households afloat immediately after separation and was able to purchase a house and buy a new vehicle. In contrast, the mother had been living in rental accommodations without enough bedroom space for all three children when they were with her. The court noted that the father’s initial ability to bear the financial burden of separation for the two (2) households indicative of a higher level of financial well-being in comparison to the mother.
Based on this reasoning, the court held that the mother had established spousal support on a non-compensatory basis.
The court noted that in cases of non-compensatory claims for spousal support, the focus for quantum is generally on the maintenance of the recipient’s standard of living as measured during the marriage, however, all factors related to entitlement must also be considered. Since the mother had the ability to work full time at a reasonably remunerative salary and was not ill or disabled, and because there was a lack of connection between the mother’s circumstances and the father’s pay increases, the court found there was no justification for post-separation sharing of the father’s increased income. The court therefore held that spousal support payments at the mid-point range of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines was appropriate.
The court ordered that spousal support was payable by the father to the mother at the mid-point range of the SSAGs on an indefinite basis with available review by either party upon the oldest of their children reaching the age of 18.