Spousal Support – Assessing Entitlement

Family Law

Lee v. Lee 2014 BCCA 383

Marriage breakdown and divorce can be emotionally and financially draining. One of the many issues to consider surrounds spousal support and how it’s assessed. A recent case was appealed after the husband was dissatisfied with the amount of, or in this case, lack of, spousal support awarded in his divorce.

Mr. and Ms. Lee separated after a 20-year childless marriage. At trial, Mr. Lee made a claim for spousal support because he earned less than $20,000 a year while Ms. Lee earned $120,000. Throughout their marriage, the couple incurred consumer debt and refinanced it several times. At trial, the judge allocated family assets almost equally, but imputed more of the debt to Mr. Lee as there was no evidence to show that he had incurred it for family purposes. Considering the contractual, compensatory, and needs-based models for support, the trial judge declined to award any support to Mr. Lee.  He was not satisfied that Mr. Lee had contributed substantially more for family purposes than Ms. Lee had done. Mr. Lee appealed the trial court’s decision.

Regarding spousal support, the appellate court reviewed case law and found that “marriage per se does not automatically entitle a spouse to support” (Moge) and “a support obligation may flow from a marriage where self-sufficiency is not possible” (Bracklow). The appellate court also considered whether, following the breakdown of the marriage, Mr. Lee was disadvantaged or in need as a result of the income disparity between the parties. The case law suggests that there is no de facto entitlement to spousal support where income disparity exists between parties, instead, trial courts in situations like these have tended to grant modified support or transitional awards to spouses who experience a decline in their standard of living after a separation. To find that an error of law had been made by the trial judge would automatically entitle lower-earning spouses to the higher standard of living they had previously enjoyed. The court allowed the appeal to the extent that voluntary support paid by Ms. Lee in the amount of $17,500 need not be repaid.

There is no automatic right to spousal support.

If you are dealing with a spousal support issue, please contact one of our Langley or Vancouver Family Law lawyers.

Family and Matrimonial Law and Litigation
Lindsay Kenney LLP – Langley Office