20-Year Marriages & Indefinite Spousal Support
Understanding Spousal Support Obligations in Ontario
Under the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines, reaching the 20th year of marriage can create an indefinite support obligation upon parties ordered to pay spousal support. If a marriage is 20 years or longer, the Guidelines indicate that spousal support should not be subject to a specified duration – in other words, indefinite. The same result occurs under the Guidelines if the marriage has been five years or longer and the years of marriage plus the age of the recipient add up to 65 or more. This is the so-called Rule of 65.
Under the Guidelines, these numbers (the Rule of 65, and the 20th year of marriage) look like bright lines separating couples who fall just below the threshold and those just above. However, as indicated in the article Calculating Spousal Support, the Guidelines are just advisory guidelines, not law, and courts have discretion to follow or depart from them, depending on the facts of each particular case.
The Fisher v. Fisher Decision
A 2008 Ontario Court of Appeal decision, Fisher v Fisher dealt with support in the case of a marriage lasting 19 years. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the trial judge, who used the Guidelines to determine spousal support but concluded that any economic disadvantage suffered by Mrs. Fisher as a result of the marriage was not sufficient to warrant indefinite support. Mrs. Fisher was awarded 7 years of spousal support for her 19 year marriage.
Despite the long marriage, Mrs. Fisher did not meet either the 20-year threshold or the Rule of 65. The Court of Appeal made the following observations: “Indefinite support is appropriate after a long-term marriage because the dependent spouse is often of an age that makes it difficult to achieve economic self-sufficiency…Even though this marriage was lengthy; the trial judge decided that an indefinite order was not appropriate. In making this determination, the trial judge considered the appellant’s [Mrs. Fisher’s] employment position and relative youth.” There were no children of the marriage, and Mrs. Fisher was only 41, had worked periodically throughout the marriage, and was employable.
The decision is viewed as placing a greater amount of emphasis on need than on the duration of compensation for Mrs. Fisher’s efforts in supporting her husband on his career trajectory. In situations like Mrs. Fisher’s, where the marriage was of a long duration but the parties are relatively young, the court may not order indefinite support. In cases where the parties are older, indefinite support is more likely. However, keep in mind that “indefinite” does not mean “forever.” It simply means that no initial time limit is imposed. The order can always be varied if the circumstances of the parties change. For example, if the payor spouse is near retirement, his or her income will likely drop at that point, and variation will be required.
If you’ve been married for 20 years or more or may fit the Rule of 65, it is important to understand your rights and responsibilities as they relate to spousal support. Call (905) 581-7222 to learn how an Ontario family lawyer can assist you.
Andrew Feldstein Founder
Andrew Feldstein graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1992. Prior to focusing exclusively on family law, Andrew’s legal practice covered many different areas, including corporate commercial. One of Andrew’s fundamental objectives is to achieve those goals mutually and collaboratively, as set out by him and his client.
Daphna Schwartz Lawyer
Daphna Schwartz joined Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. in 2007 as an associate lawyer. She was previously practising family law in the Barrie area. Her practice includes all areas of divorce and family law, including custody and access, child support, spousal support, and property issues. Daphna is also qualified to practise Collaborative Family Law.
Anna Troitschanski Lawyer
Anna Troitschanski joined the team at Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. in 2012. Prior to that, she practised Family Law at a boutique Newmarket firm. Her experience covers all areas of divorce and family law, including custody and access, child support, spousal support, and division of property.
Nick Slinko Lawyer
Nick Slinko attended York University from 2003 until 2007 where he majored in both Law & Society and Philosophy. Nick graduated in 2007 with an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree. He proceeded to earn a Juris Doctor in Law at the University of Western Ontario in 2011. Nick was Called to the Bar in June of 2012 after completing his Articling term with the Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. He became an associate with the firm immediately thereafter.
Veronica Yeung Lawyer
Veronica Yeung joined the Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. as a summer student in 2014 and returned as an articling student in 2015. Following her call to the Ontario Bar in June 2016, Veronica was welcomed to the team as an associate lawyer.
Veronica attended York University for her undergraduate studies and graduated as a member of the Dean’s Honour Roll when she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Honours Criminology.
Shana Gordon-Katz Lawyer
Shana joined Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. as an articling student in 2017. Following her call to the Ontario Bar in June 2018, Shana was welcomed back to the firm as an associate. While completing her articles, Shana assisted with legal matters covering all areas of family law.
Shana attended the University of Western Ontario for her undergraduate studies, where she graduated as the gold medalist of her program, Honors Specialization in Classical Studies.
Rachel Zweig Lawyer
Rachel joined Feldstein Family Law Group P.C as a Summer Student in 2019 and returned as an Articling Student in 2020-2021. Following her Call to the Ontario Bar in April 2021, Rachel was welcomed back to the firm as an Associate.
Prior to completing her legal studies and obtaining her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa, Rachel obtained her Bachelor’s Degree at Ryerson University with a major in English Literature.
Lauren Harvey Associate Lawyer
Lauren joined Feldstein Family Law Group as a Summer Student in 2020 and returned as an Articling Student in 2021-2022. Following her Call to the Ontario Bar in April 2022, Lauren was welcomed back to the firm as an Associate.
Prior to completing her legal studies and obtaining her Juris Doctor at the University of Western Ontario, Lauren obtained her Honour’s Bachelor of Arts Degree at Wilfrid Laurier University majoring in Criminology and minoring in Law and Society.
Quinn Held Associate Lawyer
Quinn spent two years as a Summer Student and then completed her Articling term at a boutique Family Law firm in Orangeville, where she was exposed to various complex Family Law matters. Following her Call to the Bar of Ontario in June 2022, she became an Associate with the Feldstein Family Law Group.
Prior to obtaining her Juris Doctor from the University of Windsor, Quinn obtained her Honour’s Bachelor of Arts Degree at the University of Guelph majoring in Criminal Justice and Public Policy and minoring in International Development.