Although Ontario family law is guided by governing principles, much of the litigation is decided on a case-by-cases basis, applying those principles to the unique facts of each case.
One of the common questions I get, is what happens when a former spouse gets remarried to a new partner? In particular, do the first spouse’s support obligations continue, even though his or her former spouse has remarried to someone else?
Of course there is no set answer that applies to every case, but this was among the questions for the court in a case called J. (L.) v. J. (P.), 2014 ONSC 7241. The facts were convoluted and the litigation was acrimonious to say the least; the court set the overall tenor of the judgment in this way:
To trace, in detail, the long and litigious history of this proceeding would only serve to make the reader become depressed and cause the parties to feel a great deal of regret. I will spare the reader and the parties those feelings. …
The basic elements were these: The couple started lived together in 1997, married in 2000, and split up seven years later. After a brief reconciliation, they separated for a final time in 2011. The husband was temporarily ordered pay the wife $2,000 in monthly spousal support, all of which was based on an income of $60,000. This temporary order stayed in place for 7 years, and a final order was granted by the court in 2014.
Meanwhile the wife remarried in 2011. At that point the husband brought a motion to terminate spousal support altogether. (Incidentally, he also applied at the same time to reduce his child support obligations, and to have almost $75,000 in arrears of basic child support rescinded).
In considering his submissions, the court pointed out that under Canadian law the objects of spousal support include: 1) recognizing the economic advantages/disadvantages to spouses arising from the marriage and its breakdown; 2) relieving the economic hardship of the marriage breakdown; and 3) promoting former spouses’ economic self-sufficiency. Further, support is awarded by courts either to address the recipient spouse’s need, or because there is a desire to compensate him or her (usually for giving up educational or employment opportunities to care for the children, etc, which often enhances the earning potential of the other spouse as well).
The court pointed out that when one spouse remarries, spousal support is not automatically terminated; it may however be reduced, especially where the recipient spouse’s support entitlement is based on need, rather than having a compensatory goal.
In this case, the court was not satisfied that the wife was being paid support on a compensatory basis; instead, she was being paid based on need arising from the marriage and its breakdown. This being the case, her decision to re-marry (and the corollary financial benefits that might accrue) were relevant in determining whether and to what extent the first husband’s support obligations to her should continue.
In this case, the $1,000 per month the wife was currently receiving was simply too high. In an effort to be fair to both parties in light of all the circumstances (including the wife’s remarriage), the court cut that support obligation in half, despite not having complete information as to the financial circumstances or income of the wife’s new husband.
As the court explained:
At the same time, [the husband’s lawyer] is correct that the remarriage or re-partnering of the recipient spouse does affect spousal support. The submissions of [the wife’s lawyer] that the Court ought to ignore the income of [the wife] L.J.’s current husband are, with respect, wrong in law. Re-partnering does not automatically mean that spousal support is terminated, but it often means that the amount will be reduced, especially if the entitlement is based on need rather than compensation.
That is another reason why I have reduced by fifty per cent the quantum of monthly spousal support that was sought by the wife.
The court reduced the spousal support award to $500 per month, and in recognition of various other circumstances, also rescinded the child support arrears and made other adjustments to the parties’ financial obligations to each other.
As an aside, however, the court ended its judgment with this plaintive observation:
I would urge the parties to think about how much more of their lives they want to spend in litigation. It is hard to imagine, but these parents have been fighting in the Court for three-quarters of the life of their youngest child. That is very sad.
For the full text of the decision, see:
L.J. v. P.J., 2014 ONSC 7241