Wednesday, 12 September 2012

My partner and I just separated. We were common law, not married, so do I have to pay spousal support?

In Alberta, "common law" relationships (or "adult interdependent partner relationships") can give rise to a claim for partner support (“alimony ” or “spousal support”) just as in a legal marriage.  Being “common law” rather than married does not change the entitlement of someone to claim partner support. 
Entitlement to spousal support is based on many diverse factors.  One of the key considerations is if one partner sacrificed his or her position in the paid labour force due to the relationship.  Another factor is the length of the relationship.  These two qualities are key.  Thus, the longer a couple has lived together, and the longer one partner has remained out of the paid labour force, the more likely it is that there will be entitlement to partner or spousal support. 
Other considerations for spousal or partner support include the labour force qualifications, education, positions pre-relationship and post-relationship, age, abilities and needs of the party making the claim.  Additionally, it is important to consider the means of the other party (his or her income and assets).  Often, the age of both parties is a critical factor as the needs and means of the parties as at retirement may change the circumstances significantly.  
The historical textbook situation where spousal support is a live issue occurs when one partner leaves the paid labour force to stay home to raise the children and take care of the domestic duties, while the other partner is enriched by this sacrifice and is able to devote more time and attention to his or her employment and career.  Nonetheless, spousal support claims can certainly arise absent any children when the above factors are met. 
Spousal support has many goals, including compensating  a person for the sacrifices that were made during a relationship that benefitted the other partner and may have had significant effects on the recipient partner’s overall lifetime income, earning potential and career achievements.   However, one of the most important goals of spousal support is to allow the receiving partner an opportunity to have some money to live on until he or she is able to find employment that will take care of his or her needs.  These days it is increasingly uncommon that spousal support would last throughout a person’s lifetime, but that will be the subject of another blog post!

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