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Prepare for the day spousal support ends: Sullivan

Spousal support won’t last forever, so it’s vital to make plans for your financial future, says Ottawa family law and estate lawyer Timothy N. Sullivan.

Referring to a judgment upholding a decision to terminate a woman’s spousal support after 22 years, Sullivan, principal of SullivanLaw, says, “The court said what needed to be said.

“The point here is spousal support isn’t always going to be lifelong,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com. “I think the court ruled against her because her time was up.”

The Ontario Court of Appeal was told a man was ordered to pay his ex-wife $4,750 per month in spousal support on an indefinite basis after their marriage of 15 years broke up 1994.

Court was told the woman left work when the couple’s first child was born. Although she returned to work briefly, she later stayed home to care for two children and never re-entered the workforce.

After their marriage ended the woman’s income came “almost exclusively from spousal support,” according to the judgment.

She purchased rental properties, “some of which operate at a loss, and also has an organic farming business that also operates at a loss,” court heard.

In anticipation of his retirement in 2016, the man won his motion to have the support terminated. However, his ex-wife appealed the decision arguing, among other things, that the termination was “unnecessarily harsh." 

The woman argued that she was frustrated in her attempts to find work because of “the residual impact of having been out of the workforce and at home with the children for 10 years during the marriage,” court was told.

She told the court that because she relocated to Toronto during her marriage for the benefit of her husband’s career, she suffered a disadvantage because she had no business contacts in that city.

The judge in the case found the woman never obtained employment, despite having marketable skills, “because she never made any serious attempt to do so.”

Sullivan, who was not involved with the case and comments generally, notes that “the Divorce Act says that you should aim to become self-sufficient” although the woman’s failure to do so was not the reason for her unsuccessful appeal.

“That she didn’t take any steps to secure employment seems to have been a real detriment to her personally, but not particularly to her case,” he says. “She failed in the case because she had received all that she was entitled to receive and then some. The spousal support advisory guidelines would have indicated that spousal support last 15 years and she got 22.”

He says the bottom line is people should realize that spousal support could end when you are not prepared.

“You’re given an opportunity to get back on your feet, so take it,” he says. “Even if she tucked away some money into an RRSP or some other investment tool she would have some kind of nest egg. It’s the whole thing about paying yourself first.”

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