Is Using the SSAGs Truly “Voluntary”? When Can a Court Deviate from Them?
Those of you who read my blog regularly are familiar with the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (the “SSAGs” or simply the “Guidelines”) which are designed to help spouses, lawyers, mediators and judges to “determine the amount and duration of spousal support within the existing legal framework of the Divorce Act and the judicial decisions interpreting its provisions.”
However, the law makes it clear that the Guidelines are not legally binding, and they are used “only voluntarily”. But does that mean they can be disregarded by judges entirely when making a ruling on spousal support?
In a case called Slongo v. Slongo, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that any departure by a judge from the Guidelines requires “adequate explanation.” As the Court explained:
…the Guidelines, while not binding, should not be lightly departed from. This is in large part because, without them, it is very difficult to establish a principled basis for arriving at a figure for spousal support.
This principle was expounded on in a recent case called Sharpe v. Sharpe where the court said:
The Guidelines were designed to be used under the Divorce Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. 3 (2nd Supp.), as am. ss. 1 to 35.1, but are in fact used as a useful tool by federal, provincial and territorial courts in the determination of spousal support and variation. I recognize that the Guidelines are neither legislated nor binding but note that it seems that use of the Guidelines has evolved from a “cross-check” or “starting point” to the Guidelines being a useful tool that should not be deviated from lightly.
So without wanting to quibble at the meaning of the word “voluntary”, it seems the use of the Guidelines is something a little more than that, at least for judges making a spousal support ruling.
For the full text of the decision, see: