Family

Lump-sum spousal support following short marriages

By AdvocateDaily.com Staff

Lump-sum spousal support settlements can work for both parties to a divorce following a short-term marriage, says Toronto family lawyer Lisa Gelman.

When unions last less than five years, both parties are often keen to cut ties and get on with the next chapter in their separate lives, says Gelman, principal of Gelman & Associates.

“A lump-sum payment for spousal support is a good option if it’s feasible, because it reduces litigation and conflict, and quickly removes the connection between the parties so that they’re free to move on,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Gelman says spousal support is designed to reflect the ongoing benefit reaped by a higher-paid spouse as a result of a former partner’s contribution to their financial partnership while married.

And a short marriage does not necessarily preclude entitlement to spousal support. She notes that courts base their decision on a variety of factors, including the financial needs of the applicant, the respondent’s ability to pay, as well as the age and health of the parties, the length of cohabitation, and any domestic or childcare responsibilities assumed by one spouse to support the career of the other.

Still, Gelman says things frequently get challenging when prospective payors are tempted to argue that no spousal support should be paid.

“When the other side takes an unreasonable position, it can make negotiations difficult,” she says.

Gelman encourages parties to employ the federal Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines to generate a starting point for negotiations between former spouses. After parties input information regarding their financial and relationship history, the guidelines calculate a range for the dollar value of monthly spousal support payments, as well as an estimate of the total term of the payor’s obligation before support is terminated.

While not formally part of the law, Gelman says the guidelines often form the basis for judges’ decisions on spousal support.

“Depending on the level of income, it may be convenient to propose that support is paid in a lump sum,” she says, explaining that shorter marriages generally lead to shorter terms of spousal support, making a one-off payment relatively manageable.

For example, a short marriage yielding no children that results in three years of spousal support at $1,000 per month would equate to a total liability for the payor of $36,000.

Paying the amount in one go rather than stringing it out over three years provides financial certainty for both parties, while also reducing the risk of further litigation, says Gelman.

She says a support recipient may seek to vary monthly payments should they suffer a “material change” in circumstances.

“By paying out a lump sum, you reduce the worry about how their situation might change.”

Gelman says the attractiveness of a one-time payment dwindles as the length of the marriage increases, due to the wide range of possible outcomes a court might come to, and the potentially significant size of the settlement.

“You get much more unpredictability when you get into medium- and longer-term marriages,” she says.

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