Spousal Support & Alimony

Does a Spouse In a Mental Institution Need Spousal Support?

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Written by Russell Alexander ria@russellalexander.com / (905) 655-6335

In a recent case called Stephens v. Stephens, 2013 ONSC 7082, the couple separated after 10 years of marriage. The husband had assaulted the wife, was convicted of various minor criminal offences, and lost his job as a teacher. Then, after an incident at a gas bar where he refused to pay for gas and then undressed, he was charged with theft and committing an indecent act. This led to a finding of “not criminally responsible” on account of him having a mental disorder. He was committed to a mental institution where he received psychiatric care and medication; his only income was Canada Pension Benefits based on his disability.

The question was whether in these circumstances the husband was entitled to spouse support from the wife. As a teacher she earned about $70,000 per year, but was working under various contracts and had not been able to secure a permanent position.

On first blush, the husband’s ongoing mental health issues, together with the income disparity that was caused by his loss of the teaching job, would seem to dictate that the wife should have to financially support him.

However, after the court took a more thorough look at the evidence, it decided otherwise.

It was clear that during the 13 years that the couple lived together, their incomes were similar, and they were each on equal financial footing at the point of separation. And while it was doubtful that the husband would be able to work or become self-sufficient in the future, the children’s welfare and standard of living also had to be considered in deciding whether the husband should get spousal support.

In particular – and taking into account the modest amount of child support that the wife received from the husband – in this case any amount that she would be required to pay the husband for spousal support would be “taken off the top” of the money she had available for the children’s expenses and needs. As the court explained, it was essentially a case of “stealing from Peter to give to Paul”:

Given her income and financial responsibility for the children, Ms. Stephens has reduced financial resources. On my examination of her financial statement, I conclude any spousal support payment to Mr. Stephens would unduly penalize the children, significantly reduce their standard of living and necessitate disruption to the family by liquidating modest resources. Ms. Stephens already has a financial shortfall and relies on her family for assistance.

Also, the husband had not established that he had a present need for spousal support since he was currently confined to a mental health facility – this meant he had no choice in his accommodation and his expenses were minimal. In fact, since he also had no debts, he was in a position where he could actually be saving money while committed.

Finally the court also pointed out that, even though his former employment provided for it, the husband did not pursue a claim for disability insurance since he was let go from his job in 2004. By law, the husband had an obligation to pursue all reasonable sources of income prior to asking the wife for spousal support. His neglect in this regard would unjustly impose a support obligation on the wife.

For all these reasons, the court rejected the husband’s spousal support claim.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Stephens v. Stephens, 2013 ONSC 7082  http://canlii.ca/t/g1x59

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About the author

Russell Alexander

Russell Alexander is the Founder & Senior Partner of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers.