Are You Invested in this Marriage?

Calculation of spousal support in Canada (image of older woman with sunglasses)

From an emotional and spiritual standpoint, marriage can be viewed as an investment. An investment of love, an investment of devotion, or an investment of faith in the one with whom you are joining your life.

Ideally, investment into such sublime rewards supersedes the pedestrian and profane notion of marriage as a financial investment. In the possible outcome of divorce, however, the financial investment may suddenly become the most important investment.

Spousal support (also referred to as “maintenance” or “alimony”) is “the money that one spouse may have to pay to the other spouse for their financial support following a separation or divorce” according to the Government of Canada Fact Sheet on spousal support.

Expanding on this, the Fact Sheet explains, “the calculation of spousal support is one of the most complex areas of family law. Many factors need to be considered to determine an amount that is fair and appropriate in each case.”

The Fact Sheet warns that “…unlike the Federal Child Support Guidelines, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines are not law.” The Fact Sheet then enigmatically echoes that “many factors” are also considered with respect to how long the support must be paid. The oblique commentary continues: “…The duration of support will be based on the facts of the case, such as the length of time the spouses lived together, or their ages at the time of separation. In some cases, spousal support may only be paid for a limited amount of time.”

The reader is further cautioned that these calculations are determined on a “case-by-case” basis.

Through this murky language, two points fuzzily take shape which hearken to the concept of “investment”.

First, the amount of time the couple were married (or in a marriage-like relationship) is a “factor” and second, the age at which the parties separate will be considered.

The Canadian spousal support regime indicates a foggy correlation between the termination of a longer marriage and a better post marriage payout. However, there is nothing so clearly defined that would realistically enable someone to time the pulling of the trigger on the divorce for a potentially better support outcome.

In a different realm, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law that aims to overhaul the current alimony laws in the state: “The measure (SB 1416) includes doing away with what is known as permanent alimony.” (CBS News)

This measure set off a hot tension between elderly divorced women across the state of Florida who rely on alimony payments in their day-to-day lives on the one hand, and those who resentfully must continue to make such payments.

Representatives from the First Wives Advocacy Group, described as “…a coalition of mostly older women who receive permanent alimony and who assert that their lives will be upended without the payments” (CBS News), say that if this measure is enacted that they will change their voting practices and withdraw support for Governor Desantis’ Republican Party presidential run.

A speaker for the group Florida Family Fairness praised the bill, that they say “ends permanent alimony and codifies in statute the right to retire for existing alimony payers.” (CBS News)

Keeping conspicuously true to the “investment” principle, the bill also sets out a firm plan in which “…people married for less than three years will not be eligible for alimony payments, and those who have been married 20 years or longer will be eligible to receive payments for up to 75 percent of the term of the marriage.” (CBS News)

Therefore, like Canada, a longer marriage yields better alimony conditions for the recipients, though unlike their Canadian counterparts, Florida recipients now dread the clear cut-off date, which will come at a time when they are least able to achieve financial independence.

Will the fixed gradations of entitlement tempt someone in a relatively new marriage to stick it out to make it past the three-year mark?

Would someone who is unhappy in their marriage of fifteen years consider hanging in for five more years to be eligible for a better payout after the divorce takes place?

Inversely, will the spouse with the higher income, anticipating a looming entitlement bump consider pulling the plug on the marriage to avoid one of those alimony milestones?

Marriage may indeed be viewed as an investment, but should it be drawn in harsh relief? Or is there wisdom in mistier watercolour gestures? Maybe in this case there is merit to the uncertainty of your investment.

Government of Canada. “Fact Sheet – Spousal Support”.

CBS Miami Team. “Florida Gov. DeSantis signs bill ending permanent alimony”, CBS, Updated on: June 30, 2023.