Does Re-Partnering Change Spousal Support Entitlement? Maybe Not!
When a marriage ends, it’s not uncommon for one or both former spouses to move on and find love elsewhere. If one of those spouses had previously been ordered to pay spousal support to the other, it may seem reasonable that the payor’s support obligation might be adjusted or even terminated once the recipient has entered into a new relationship.
Not necessarily so, says the Ontario Court of Appeal in a case called Politis v. Politis.
It involved a couple, both aged 48 at separation, who had been married 25 years. The wife was a homemaker during the marriage, and had a high school education. The husband was a civil engineer, making about $200,500. The wife never worked after their 2008 split, and about four years later she was diagnosed with Lyme disease. She asserted that this left her completely unable to work. She obtained court order requiring the husband to pay interim spousal support of about $5,300 per month, which was in line with the recommendations under the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs).
The “wrinkle” was that since 2009, the wife had new common law spouse. At the eventual trial, the husband accordingly asked the judge to terminate his support obligation entirely, so that it would shift to the wife’s new partner instead. The judge agreed to reduce the support to $3,000 a month and cap its duration at the year 2026, but refused to eliminate it altogether. The judge acknowledged that the wife’s new partner had an increasing obligation to contribute financially, but decided that in all the circumstances the husband was not off the hook.
The husband appealed to the Court of Appeal, unsuccessfully. That Court concluded that the trial judge had made no errors in confirming the husband’s ongoing financial obligation.
The Court noted that the SSAGs and its embedded support ranges are merely “tools” to assist courts in settling on a reasonable figure. The wife’s re-partnering was just one of many factors to be considered on a case-by-case basis – and indeed the SSAGs specifically contemplate such a scenario as a reason for a court to revisit the issue of support and consider terminating it. However no outcomes are automatic, since re-partnering can have many different impacts, depending on the parties and their circumstances.
In this case, for example, the wife’s new relationship was relevant to whether she could obtain self-sufficiency; on the other hand, it did not change the fact that she suffered from a chronic illness that made her gainful employment impossible.
True, the wife was receiving financial benefits from her new partner of at least another $3,100 a month, and was actually enjoying a standard of living that was comparable to – or better than – the one she had with the husband. But the judge took this into full account when arriving at the SSAG-based support amount payable by the husband. That figure reflected the fact that the economic loss suffered by the wife during the marriage had not been completely compensated-for, even though some of her current financial needs were being met by her new partner.
The Court of Appeal concluded that even if the judge deviated from the SSAG figures in some respects, the overall approach taken was consistent with them. It confirmed the trial ruling that required the husband to pay support at a reduced amount until 2026.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Politis v. Politis, 2021 ONCA 541