See also Spousal Support Under the federal Divorce Act.

Spousal support used to be called alimony and some jurisdictions call it spousal maintenance.

The British Columbia Family Relations Act (herein the FRA), defines a "spouse" specifically with spousal support in mind. For example, you are a "spouse" under the FRA if you apply for support under the FRA within two years of a divorce.

If you have never been married, there are two criteria:

  • you lived with the person from whom you are claiming support, as man and wife, for at least 24 months, and
  • your petition for support is filed with the court within one year after the date that you ceased to live together.

The FRA states that one spouse has an obligation to support the other "having regard to:

  • the role of each spouse in the family;
  • whether there was an agreement, written or implied, that one spouse accepted to support the other;
  • child care obligations; or
  • the ability and capacity of each spouse to support themselves and reasonable efforts made towards self-sufficiency."

Once this obligation of support has been established, then the amount of support will be based on the "needs, means, capacities and economic circumstances or each spouse" including:

  • the effect on the earning capacity of each spouse arising from responsibilities assumed during cohabitation;
  • any other source of support for the spouse in need;
  • the desirability of the spouse in need having special assistance to achieve financial independence;
  • any other support obligation which presently encumbers the person from whom support is being claimed; and
  • the capacity and reasonable prospects of the spouse in need obtaining training or education.

Many of the legal decisions and principles surrounding spousal support under the FRA are similar to those which have been decided under the Divorce Act, covering such things as the needs of the spouse-in-need, the income and assets of the debtor spouse, the duty to become self-sufficient, the duration of the relationship, the criteria for favouring a lump sum payment in addition to or in the place of periodic support payments, the weight to be given to a written agreement between the parties and the criteria for varying a spousal support order.

Readers are invited to consult Spousal Support Under Canada's Divorce Act for a discussion of these subjects.

You should also be forewarned that there are no Canada-wide or binding "spousal support guidelines" so this issue is by no means a science. It remains a fact-driven exercise very much dependent, in my experience, on the case-specific or general bias of the judge. That's not necessarily a bad thing for those who appreciate the benefits of a mature justice system but it can be a scary thought to those who seeks some certainty. The lack of specificity in setting spousal support also makes the negotiation of this issue, through mediation, for example, a challenging subject although advisory guidelines (discussed in the Spousal Support Under Canada's Divorce Act article) hold promise.