You Owe Me: Spousal Support / Alimony and How to Get It

How to Get Spousal Support

Movies and TV will tell you every break-up results in alimony. The truth of the matter is spousal support – the amount of money paid by one spouse to support the other after the separation – is not payable in every relationship. 

After separation or divorce, the spouse seeking assistance must establish a need for support (alimony) and the other party must have the capacity to pay. The Divorce Act and the Family Law Act are helpful to review as they set out the factors considered when determining support, how much should be paid, and for how long. 


Only a “spouse” can claim spousal support after separation. In British Columbia, for the purposes of the Family Law Act, a “spouse” is defined as:

  1. married to another person;
  2. has lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship for a continuous period of at least 2 years; or
  3. has lived with another person in a marriage-like relationship and has a child with the other person.

Meeting these criteria establishes that you are a spouse under the Family Law Act, which many people refer to as being in a “common law” relationship.

How Am I Entitled to Spousal Support?

Initially, the spouse seeking support must prove entitlement to receive it. The court will refer to the following objectives in its determination:

  1. spousal support may be awarded to recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages arising from the relationship between the spouses or the separation;
  2. spousal support may be awarded to help share any financial consequences arising from the care of any children, aside from child support;
  3. spousal support may be awarded to relieve any economic hardship arising from separation and divorce;
  4. spousal support may be awarded in order to promote economic self-sufficiency within a reasonable period of time.

How much Spousal Support do I get?

Once a spouse establishes entitlement, the court will determine the amount and for how long spousal support will be paid considering the conditions, means, needs and other circumstances of each spouse. Some factors include but are not limited to the following:

  1. the financial situation of each spouse during the relationship and after separation;
  2. the ages of the spouses;
  3. the education of the spouses;
  4. the career potential of the spouses;
  5. the physical health of the spouses;
  6. the length of the relationship;
  7. each spouse’s ability to earn income;
  8. the roles and functions of each spouse during the relationship;
  9. the ability of each spouse to support him or herself; and
  10. the ability of the payor spouse to pay spousal support.

The divorce court will also take into consideration any arrangement, agreement or court order relating to spousal support between the parties.

Often, the family law court will base their decision on the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. These guidelines are not law but they provide a useful mathematical formula to determine a range of appropriate spousal support in a variety of situations. They take into account the incomes and ages of the spouses, the length of the relationship, and with whom the children (if any) live. The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines range between low, mid and high levels of support. 

Spousal Support Arrangements

The spouses can formalize their arrangements for support in a separation agreement or prenuptial agreement drafted by a family lawyer. Otherwise, a judge can make one of the following orders regarding the payment of spousal support under the Divorce Act or the Family Law Act:

  1. no spousal support is needed;
  2. spousal support will be paid in one lump sum; or
  3. spousal support will be paid in regular monthly payments or on some other periodic basis.

Essential to know: in British Columbia, under the Family Law Act, an unmarried spouse (common law spouse) must file a claim for spousal support within two years of the date of separation, or two years of having a child if the spouses did not live together for at least two years. Without filing, spousal support may not be granted, regardless of the need for it.  

To ensure you get what you are owed, Coach My Case’s Legal Navigator is here to help. Call today to book a free consultation.