The 20th Year of Marriage & Indefinite Spousal Support Obligations Protecting Your Family's Interests for Over 25 Years

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.

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    Andrew Feldstein

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    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.

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    Deleta Grandy

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    Deleta Grandy obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Legal Studies at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in 2012, where she graduated with Honours. She completed her legal studies at Western Law School, graduating with a Juris Doctor in 2016.

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    Jeff Hart

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    Jeff obtained his Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Classical Studies from McMaster University before attending law school at Queen’s.

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    Daphna Schwartz

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    Location: Markham Daphna Schwartz joined Feldstein Family Law Group, P.C. in 2007 as an associate lawyer. She was previously ...
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    Nick Slinko

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    Location: Vaughan Nick Slinko attended York University from 2003 until 2007 where he majored in both Law & Society and ...
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    Anna Troitschanski

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    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.
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    Veronica Yeung

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    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.

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    Shana Gordon-Katz

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    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.

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    Shazia Hafiji

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    Shazia Hafiji joined Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. as a summer student in 2016 and returned as an articling student in 2017. Following her Call to the Ontario Bar in 2018, Shazia returned to the firm as an associate lawyer.

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    Lucy D'Ercole

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    Lucy D’Ercole joined Feldstein Family Law Group P.C. as a summer student in 2017 and returned as an articling student in 2018, during which she gained valuable experience in all areas of family law. Following her call to the Ontario Bar in 2019, Lucy was welcomed back to the firm as an associate lawyer.
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    Joy Pura completed her legal studies and obtained a Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa. Prior to that, she completed ...
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