Spousal Support remains one of the most litigated and contentious areas of family law. This is so, in spite of the advent of the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs), which were prepared and released in 2008.
The SSAGs are not law; judges are not mandated to apply the SSAGs. However, they have been consistently referred to as a “useful tool” for judges to consider when determining the issues of the quantum and the duration of spousal support under the Divorce Act (for married spouses) or the Family Law Act (for common law spouses). That being said, the SSAGs are referred to in almost every spousal support case and, when they are presented to the court, a judge must consider them and refer to them in his or her reasons for decision. Furthermore, they are also an integral part of negotiations on the issue of spousal support. Every negotiated settlement will, at the very least, involve a review and consideration of the SSAGs, and the vast majority of settlement agreements will incorporate their recommendations.
The SSAGs are a formula, a formula which requires certain information about the spouses, such as their respective incomes from all sources, deductions, and tax credits, along with their respective ages, and years of cohabitation. Furthermore, if there are children of the relationship, the SSAGs require additional information, including the children’s ages, the parenting schedule (primary with one parent or shared), and the children’s special or extraordinary expenses.
With this information, the SSAGs formula will then generate a recommended range of quantum (amount) of spousal support (low, mid, high), and a recommended duration of support (how long it should be payable for).Where one falls within the ranges (for both quantum and duration) can depend upon a number of factors, such as the length of the cohabitation, the ages of the children, the amount of child support to be paid, and the basis for the entitlement to spousal support (compensatory, non-compensatory, or contractual).
Of significance and importance, is that the SSAGs only apply if entitlement has been determined. In other words, the court must first determine whether a spouse is entitled to spousal support before turning to the SSAGs for assistance in determining the amount of spousal support to be paid, and the length of time for which it should be paid.