Overview

Spousal support is the money paid by one spouse to the other after they separate or divorce. The purpose of spousal support is to:

  • help a spouse become financially self-sufficient
  • prevent a spouse from experiencing serious financial difficulty due to the breakdown of the relationship
  • share the costs of caring for children
  • compensate one spouse for being financially disadvantaged during the relationship, for example, if one person stopped working to take care of children

When ordered, spousal support is paid by the spouse with the higher income to the spouse with the lower income.

Eligibility

You may be entitled to spousal support if you were either:

  • married
  • lived together as a couple for at least three years
  • were in a relationship of some permanence for any length of time and had a child together

You will need to demonstrate at least one of the following:

  • You had responsibilities during the relationship that prevented you from building your own career, such as taking care of children or helping your spouse build their career.
  • Your separation or divorce left you in need of financial support and the other spouse has enough income and assets to pay support.
  • You have a legal agreement that says you will get spousal support if you separate.

The court may also consider factors, such as your age, health and childcare requirements.

Asking for spousal support

Spousal support is not an automatic part of divorce or separation.

You and your spouse can either:

  • negotiate spousal support payments as part of a separation agreement
  • ask a judge to decide, if you cannot agree, and they will determine the amount of support and how long it should be paid

Amount of spousal support

The amount of spousal support will depend on several factors, such as:

  • if there is a large difference in income
  • whether you have children together, and who has been caring for them
  • your ages
  • the roles that each person had during the relationship
  • your mental and physical health
  • your ability to support yourself

A lawyer can help you determine the appropriate amount of support for your circumstances. Ask your lawyer to explain the spousal support advisory guidelines (SSAGs) and how they apply to your situation. The SSAGs are only guidelines but are often used by lawyers and judges to help decide how much spousal support should be paid, and for how long.

The Federal Department of Justice provides supporting documents to help legal professionals calculate possible spousal support amounts, including a User’s Guide to the SSAGs.

You can also use a spousal support calculator to get an approximate idea of how much support you will need. You should keep in mind that this free online calculator only considers employment income and can only do simple calculations. It is usually best to consult a lawyer to make sure you have considered everything and understand your spousal support rights or obligations.

Setting up spousal support

There are three ways to set up spousal support:

Separation agreement to spousal support without going court

Your separation agreement must follow certain rules in order to be legally binding and enforceable. Before you sign the agreement, make sure that:

  • you understand the terms and consequences of the agreement
  • you and your spouse have given complete and honest information about your finances
  • you are not being pressured to sign

If your separation agreement doesn’t follow these rules, you or your spouse can ask the court to set aside your agreement, which means that the agreement doesn’t have to be followed.

You do not need a lawyer to make a separation agreement, but it is a good idea to get legal advice before you sign one. It can be difficult to get a court to set aside a separation agreement, so it is important to get advice from a lawyer before you sign.

If you and your spouse cannot agree on a spousal support arrangement, you can ask a family law professional to help. There are several different types of family law professionals in Ontario that can help you prepare your agreement. Many family law courts in Ontario also offer mediation services.

File your separation agreement with the court

If you sign a support arrangement outside of the court, you can make support payments directly to your spouse. You can also choose to register your spousal support agreement with the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) and they can collect and distribute the payments for you.

The FRO enforces child and spousal support payments to make sure the support is paid regularly. When it is necessary, they will take action to enforce support orders that are not being paid on time or in full.

If you made arrangements with your spouse outside of court in a separation agreement or other type of contract, and you would like the FRO to manage and enforce support payments, you will need to file your separation agreement with the court, and then register the filed agreement with the FRO.

Court order for spousal support

If you and your partner cannot agree to a spousal support amount, you may choose to go to court and ask a judge to decide. This flowchart can help you decide the steps to take in the family law court process.

A family court makes decisions using the Family Law Rules and laws. Once the judge reaches a decision on your case, the court will file a support order with the Family Responsibility Office to enforce support payments.

Follow these steps to get the FRO to enforce your agreement.

  1. Attach your most current separation agreement to a Form 26B: Affidavit for Filing Domestic Contract or Paternity Agreement.
  2. Take it to your local courthouse. You can file your agreement only at the Ontario Court of Justice or the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice. You cannot file your agreement at other locations of the Superior Court of Justice.
  3. Provide FRO with copies of the separation agreement, the Form 26B: Affidavit for Filing Domestic Contract or Paternity Agreement with Court and a completed FRO registration package.

Once the FRO registers your agreement, spousal support will be paid directly to the FRO, who will deposit support payments to the recipient’s bank account usually within 48 hours.

Changing spousal support amounts

If you or your spouse’s situation changes, it may be necessary to change the spousal support terms in your separation agreement or court order. Some changes that might require an update to the agreement or court order include:

  • you or your partner’s income has changed
  • the partner receiving support should now be able to support themselves
  • the partner receiving spousal support re-marries
  • the arrangements with the children have changed

Changes already included in agreement or court order

Your separation agreement or court order may already deal with these types of changes. For example, it might say that the spousal support ends when the spouse:

  • receiving support gets remarried
  • paying support retires

Review date

The separation agreement or order may also have a review date, which means there is a date where you can review the spousal support amounts to see if they should change or end.

Draft new separation agreement

If the separation agreement does not describe what should happen when there are significant changes to your situation, it may be necessary to draft a new separation agreement.

Family law professional or court

If you cannot agree on the changes to spousal support, you may need to talk to a family law professional or go to court and let the judge decide the amount of support that should be paid.

If you want to change support terms in an agreement, and you have not filed your agreement with the court yet, or you want your changed agreement to replace the one you used to have, you must do the following:

  1. File the agreement with the same court you filed your former agreement, or file your most recent agreement if it was filed previously with either the:
    • Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice
    • Ontario Court of Justice in your municipality
  2. File Form 26B: Affidavit for Filing Domestic Contract or Paternity Agreement.

If you and your spouse agree to changing the court order

If you have a court order for spousal support that you both agree to change, you will need to complete the following documents and provide them to the court:

  • a consent motion to change (Form 15C) signed by each party, and the assignee, if any
  • a financial statement (Form 13) unless you both agree not to include this form
  • a certificate of financial disclosure (Form 13A) unless you both agree not to include this form
  • a motion listing the orders you are asking the court to make (Form 14B)
  • 5 copies of the draft order that you are requesting the judge to sign (Form 25) (only one draft order is required if filing online)
  • a support deduction order information form and a draft support deduction order
  • stamped envelopes addressed to each party, including the assignee, if any (only required if not filing online, or if you want your order mailed to you)

File the forms

covid 19: Courts are not operating as usual. Avoid visits to Ontario courthouses, when possible. Consider online filing of family law matters, when appropriate.

You can file these forms online. If you file in-person, you should take your completed documents to the same court that made your court order.

Before you file your documents, you must remove all financial account numbers and personal identifying information. You do this by blocking out information such as:

  • social insurance numbers
  • bank account numbers
  • credit card numbers
  • account numbers for mortgages, lines of credit, and other loans.

You must keep the original documents that show this information, in case a judge asks to see it.

A judge will review the documents and may sign the draft orders. They may also instruct you and your spouse to provide more information or appear in court to discuss the situation further.

If you or your spouse do not agree to changing the court order or agreement

If you are asking for a change in support and your spouse does not agree, you will need to complete and provide the following documents to the court:

File the forms

You can file all of these forms online. If you file in-person, you should take your completed documents to the same court that made your court order.

Before you file your documents, you must remove all financial account numbers and personal identifying information. You do this by blocking out information such as:

  • social insurance numbers
  • bank account numbers
  • credit card numbers
  • account numbers for mortgages, lines of credit, and other loans.

You must keep the original documents that show this information, in case a judge asks to see it.

After documents are filed with the court

Once these documents are filed with the court, the court clerk will sign, date, and apply the court seal to your motion to change, and give you a court file number.

You must serve your partner with a copy of your documents within 30 days of having it issued, and then file an Affidavit of Service (Form 6B) with the court.

In addition, your spouse should also be served with the following forms:

  • a blank response to motion to change (Form 15B)
  • a blank consent motion to change (Form 15C)

The other spouse then has 30 days (or 60 days if they live outside of Canada or the United States) to complete, serve, and file their response. If they do not respond, the court may make an order based on the applicant’s information alone.

It is always a good idea to seek legal advice before making any changes to your separation agreement.

If your spouse won’t pay

Sometimes the spouse paying support may not follow the terms of the separation agreement or court order about spousal support. You can talk to your spouse about this on your own, or with the help of a lawyer or mediator.

If it is not possible or safe to speak with your spouse, you may need to get help from the Family Responsibility Office or the courts.

Get help from the Family Responsibility Office (FRO)

FRO can enforce support. For example, it may be able to:

  • take money directly from the payor spouse’s bank account
  • suspend the payor spouse’s driver’s license
  • start a court case against the payor spouse

This will not cost anything for the spouse seeking or receiving support.

If you have a court order, it is automatically sent to FRO. If you have a separation agreement, it must be filed with a court, and then registered with FRO for the agency to enforce it.

Learn how to register your agreement with FRO.

FRO will write to the payor spouse’s employer and ask the employer to deduct spousal support from their pay cheque. FRO will then send this money to the spouse receiving support.

Get help from the courts

You may choose not to use FRO and would prefer to go to court yourself to enforce your separation agreement or court order. You can ask the court for an order to either:

  • deduct support from your partner’s bank account, retirement savings or wages
  • take your former partner’s employer to court to deduct the support amount directly from their wages

You should speak to a lawyer to help you understand:

  • how to enforce your rights to spousal support
  • which forms you need to submit

Learn how to find family law legal help in Ontario.

Updated: August 12, 2021
Published: March 31, 2021