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Should Support Be Extended When the Recipient Spouse Loses Their Job?

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Should Support Be Extended When the Recipient Spouse Loses Their Job?

In a recent case called Lawder v. Windsor, the court grappled with the issue of whether a support-paying spouse should have to pay for a longer period if the other spouse unexpectedly loses his or her job.

The couple had divorced in 1998 after 16 years of marriage. In 2000, the husband had been ordered by the court to pay $800 in monthly spousal support to the wife. He continued to make those payments until 2012, when he applied to the court for an order terminating his support obligations.

The husband claimed that in the circumstances, 12 years of paying support had been enough: he was now 56 years old and retired (he took an early retirement option as part of his termination due from a long-held job due to downsizing), and was two part-time jobs earning about $10 an hour. He also received a pension.

On the other hand the wife, now aged 51, was also employed and had enjoyed a steady increase to her income in the past five years. Unbeknownst to the husband, her income during that period rose from $38,000 to over $62,000 in 2012.

The glitch, however, was that the wife had recently lost her job due to corporate restructuring. She had received a termination package, but on the grounds that she was now unemployed she wanted the husband to continue paying support. (The court pointed out that she had provided no proof that she was actively looking for work, however).

The court considered the circumstances, and declined to extend support; it terminated the husband’s support obligations effective one month hence.

The court reasoned that spousal support was designed in part to compensate the wife for any economic disadvantage that she had suffered as a result of the marriage or its breakdown. That goal had been achieved through the husband paying support since 2007; the job loss now had nothing to do with the marriage or its breakdown.

Further, it was clear that the wife had achieved economic self-sufficiency: she had gotten a good job with a high degree of responsibility, and her income had increased steadily in the past five years alone. She had also never asked for a review of the support order and had never taken advantage of its built-in indexing of support amount.

In short: The wife’s recent job loss was not a good reason for extending support now; there was nothing to suggest that her temporary unemployment would affect her self-sufficiency in the bigger picture, and any short-term financial setback was something she could address through her own efforts and diligence.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lawder v. Windsor, 2013 ONSC 5948  http://canlii.ca/t/g0qb3

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