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Spousal support, also known by the American term ‘alimony’, refers to ongoing maintenance given to a spouse which is either for an indefinite, or fixed, term.
Spousal support is not automatic. If two individuals make similar incomes, spousal support is not likely to be relevant since both parties will already enjoy equivalent standards of living post separation.
Often, however, there is a large discrepancy in incomes between spouses, particularly where there has been one primary breadwinner during the marriage. This income disparity might be temporary- for instance, the non-working spouse might be able to retrain for an occupation and then become employed in that occupation within a few years after separating. Significant discrepancies in income may be more long term, or permanent.
If a spouse has been out of the workforce for a lengthy period of time and they are ending a long term relationship, they might have limited ability to support themselves financially. In such cases, indefinite spousal support may be appropriate, depending upon the payor’s continued ability to pay support. Although spousal support is meant to encourage the parties to become financially independent within a certain period of time, long term marriages are more likely to result in spousal support awards of longer duration.
Long term, or indefinite, spousal support will often require ongoing negotiations between the parties as the payor’s ability to pay support changes. It’s not unusual that as someone gets older, that he or she isn’t able to earn the same level of income as they previously had. Whether a payor suffers from poor health, or their career opportunities decline because of slumps in the economy or their industry, payors are entitled to reduce the amount of spousal support to the extend that their ability to pay has declined.
Because of the difficulty in predicting whether and to what extent a payor will have an ongoing ability to pay support in the future, there are benefits to a recipient taking spousal support as a lump sum upon separation.
Unlike child support, the quantification of spousal support obligations is not straightforward. The lower income spouse is not automatically entitled to spousal support. Entitlement can be based on the recipient’s needs, or it can be what is called ‘compensatory’ support. Compensatory support reflects the financial benefit gained by the payor, for example, if their partner took time out of the workforce to raise children, or to help build their business
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