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Spousal and partner support refers to payments made by one spouse or partner to the other. Such payments are made to compensate for financial decisions the couple made during their relationship.

The nature of a couple’s relationship determines which terms are used. Support obligations between married couples are referred to as spousal support; payments between unmarried couples are called adult interdependent partner support. For the purposes of this article, we’ll keep things simple and refer to all support payments as partner support. Read on to learn more.

What is Partner Support?

Partner support refers to payments made from one spouse or partner to

  • compensate one partner for financial decisions made during the couple’s relationship (e.g., one spouse stopped working to help raise the children)
  • help a partner meet his/her needs after the relationship dissolves (e.g., if a partner can’t meet his/her reasonable expenses)
  • honour any contracts or agreements the couple made (e.g., pre-nuptial agreement, co-habitation agreement)

Who can apply for partner support?

Partner support is not an automatic right immediately paid when a relationship ends. A partner must prove that he or she is entitled to partner support. Before deciding whether to issue a partner support order, the judge must carefully consider a number of factors, including

  • presence of children
  • age and health of each partner
  • how long the couple has lived together
  • each partner’s income and financial needs
  • any special needs or extenuating circumstances
  • existence of a pre-nuptial or separation agreement
  • each partner’s function(s) when they lived together
  • whether the partners have any legal obligations to each other

Judges also take into account the payor’s income and the payee’s financial need. Both partners must submit income information and budgets for the judge’s review.

Which laws govern partner support?

If you’re going to make an application to the court, you need to know which law applies to your situation. In Alberta, both the federal Divorce Act and the provincial Family Law Act govern partner support. However, a couple’s relationship determines which law applies. If you’re legally married, you can apply for partner support using the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act. If you’re unmarried and in an adult interdependent relationship, you can apply using the Family Law Act.

Alberta law does not use the term common-law to describe people who live together but who are not legally married. These relationships are called adult interdependent relationships.

To be considered living in an adult interdependent relationship, you first need to meet certain conditions. You can apply for partner support if you meet the criteria for an adult interdependent relationship. If you’re not married and you’re not an adult interdependent partner, you’re ineligible for partner support.

How much partner support should be ordered?

In addition to the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act, the judge may also refer to the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. Although they are not law, the Guidelines are often used because they provide suggestions about the amount and duration of partner support.

How is partner support paid?

Partner support is typically paid monthly. These periodic payments are taxable for the payee and tax deductible for the payor. Although less common, lump sum payments are another option. Unlike periodic payments, however, lump sum payments do not have the same tax implications.

Interim order

In some cases, while partners are negotiating a settlement, one may need immediate financial support. In these circumstances, the judge can order partner support on a temporary basis by issuing an interim order.

Set review or termination date

Payments can continue until a certain date and end when a particular event (e.g., a partner goes back to school to learn new skills and become self-supporting) occurs. The partner support order can then be reviewed or terminated (e.g., the courses are completed).

Indefinite or no end date

If there is an indefinite end date, support will have to continue indefinitely. If either partner’s circumstances change, an application can be made to vary the amount of support paid.

Staggered payments

With staggered payments, the amount of support decreases over time until no more support is payable. Staggered payments are often used when the judge believes the payee can eventually become self-sufficient.

What if partner support is not being paid?

If partner support is not being paid, you can register your order with the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP). MEP can enforce the order if

  • payments are not being made in full
  • the payor has not made payment arrangements with MEP

Partner support and family law can be complicated. Understanding the law, as well as your options, is an important first step. Consult with the Lift Legal team of family lawyers.



The information on this blog and website is provided by Lift Legal for educational purposes only. It is intended to give readers a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. Information contained in these pages should not be used in place of competent legal advice from a licensed, practising lawyer in Alberta. Furthermore, by using this blog and website, you understand that no lawyer-client relationship exists between you and Lift Legal.

Mel Garbe

Mel founded Lift Legal with the goal of delivering cost effective legal services without sacrificing capability by effectively using modern tools to access the types of resources that larger law firms have access to. The result being that Lift Legal provides high level professional services at a greater value.

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