Spousal support arrangements are often a source of conflict during divorces and separations, and, unfortunately, sometimes the conflict does not end with the separation agreement.
When couples go separate, many individuals are fortunate enough to meet new partners, enter new cohabitation arrangements, and/or remarry.
Such changes of circumstances can affect the spousal support agreement reached at the time of separation with an ex-spouse – but not necessarily.
So, what happens to spousal support payment obligations when you remarry in Ontario?
If you currently pay spousal support, does the obligation automatically come to an end if your ex remarries?
Do you have to go back to court?
How Does Remarriage Affect My Spousal Support Obligations?
Remember that spousal support is generally awarded to a lower-income partner in a relationship to avoid that person experiencing financial hardship or to ensure they maintain a certain standard of living after separation.
The 1968 Divorce Act and Part III of the Family Law Act cover the set of rules relating to spousal support.
The remarriage of your ex-spouse (and the potential resulting change of financial circumstances) does not automatically bring your spousal support obligations to an end.
The spousal support consequences of remarriage depend upon what your agreement determined at the time of separation and divorce. There is no defined set of rules universally applied to terminate spousal support obligations in Ontario.
What were the legal considerations when spousal support was awarded to your ex in the original agreement?
In Canada, there are three basic grounds for entitlement to support:
- Contractual obligation
If the original agreement awarded support based on your ex’s need for financial assistance and that need is reduced based upon remarriage, you may be to successfully argue that a lower amount or no support at all is appropriate given the change in circumstances.
In other words, your ex’s remarriage and entry into another household may have eliminated the original need upon which the award was based.
The court could then formally adjust or eliminate the spousal support order.
However, in many cases spousal support is awarded by the court as a type of compensation for financial and professional sacrifices made by one spouse during the marriage. If your spousal support obligation is compensatory in nature, your ex-spouse’s remarriage is unlikely to affect your continuing financial obligation to them.
In general, it is fair to say that the effects of remarriage are more significant on needs-based support than with compensatory or contractually based support.
Under What Conditions Does Spousal Support End?
In Ontario, there are only two conditions on which spousal support will automatically end:
- The death of the recipient, or
- When either the spousal support order or the instructions included in your separation agreement are time-limited (meaning that support will end automatically on the nominated date).
Sometimes, support is “indefinite” and only ends upon the death of the recipient. Other agreements include a “review date” when circumstances will be reassessed.
There are other conditional situations when the spousal support agreement may be terminated. However, it will not happen automatically and will first need to be assessed by the court.
- When the payor dies – it may continue after the payor’s death if life insurance or other assets (such as an RRSP) can be accessed to pay the support. Note that the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) does not enforce support orders against the payor’s estate.
- When the recipient lives with another partner or remarries.
- When the payor retires and therefore experiences a change in financial circumstances.
In each of the “conditional” cases above, the payor or the recipient can apply for a change or an end to spousal support on the basis of a material change in circumstances.
In such cases, the burden rests on the applicant to demonstrate this material change of circumstances to the court.
What Happens In The Case of Non-Payment of Spousal Support?
It is never advisable to simply stop making spousal support payments without talking to your lawyer first.
The Family Responsibility Office (FRO) can help ensure that recipients receive the support they are entitled to by enforcing support agreements.
FRO can apply a variety of enforcement measures against you, including:
- Taking payments directly
- Garnishing your bank account or (or 50 percent of a joint bank account)
- Deducting payments from your wages or other income sources (e.g., sales commission, Workers’ Compensation payments, income tax refunds, or pensions)
- Registering a lien against your property or real estate
- Suspending your driver license and/or cancelling your passport
- Reporting you to the credit bureau (making it difficult to get loans)
If none of the above measures are effective in forcing a payor to satisfy their spousal support obligations, the FRO is able to petition the court for the matter to be returned there. If the payor is found in contempt of court, it may result in a fine or even imprisonment.
Note that if someone else helps a payor hide assets or income and/or assists in non-payment of spousal support, he or she can also face action from the FRO.
Get Legal Assistance to End Spousal Support
If you currently pay spousal support to a recipient who remarries it may or may not have an impact on your spousal support obligations.
If you or your ex-spouse has experienced a material change in circumstances, your ongoing spousal support obligations may be revised or terminated altogether. It is critical to receive legal advice regarding your particular circumstance from a knowledgeable divorce lawyer in order to protect your financial interests.
If you are unsure about your ongoing spousal support obligations, consult a spousal support lawyer at Amiri Family Law for a free case evaluation to see where you stand.