How Does Spousal Support Work in Ontario?

Spousal support is a form of payment made from one spouse to the other at the end of their relationship. Spousal support may be issued for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To compensate one spouse for the responsibilities they took on during the relationship, such as foregoing paid work to look after the children or the home, or for ongoing sacrifices related to childcare.
  • To prevent one spouse from suffering financial hardship because of their separation, or to support them getting back on their feet, financially.
  • To fulfill a pre-determined contractual obligation. 

Spousal support can be paid in one lump sum, but is often ordered to be paid monthly on an ongoing basis. There are often tax implications of paying and receiving spousal support. Family legislation varies from province to province.  So how does spousal support work in Ontario? Our team of family law lawyers may be able to help you understand your rights and responsibilities with respect to spousal support, so that you and your family can move on with confidence. Contact our firm today to book a consultation with a member of our family law team.

Are You Entitled to Receive Spousal Support? 

In Ontario, you may be entitled to spousal support if you were married or in a common law relationship.  To be considered common law spouses, you and your partner must have:

  • Lived together in a romantic relationship for at least three years
  • Lived together in a “relationship of some permanence,” and had a child together.

Not every spouse with a lower income is entitled to spousal support when they separate.  The circumstances of their relationship must prove: 

  • That one spouse exhibits a financial need for support
  • That it would be fair to compensate one spouse for taking on a greater proportion of unpaid work at the expense of their career
  • That a written agreement exists stating that one spouse will support the other in the event their relationship ends.

How Do You Receive a Spousal Support Order? 

If you are entitled to receive spousal support from your ex-spouse, you can either apply to the Court for a spousal support order or negotiate an agreement with your spouse that includes the payment of spousal support. 

To ensure that the spousal support terms of a separation agreement are valid, it is important that both you and your spouse are honest about your finances during the negotiation. It is also recommended that you each obtain independent legal advice before signing the agreement.  This means that you each need to consult your own lawyer about the content of the agreement. Your spouse cannot be there with you when you see your lawyer and cannot have a personal connection to your lawyer. Once your separation agreement has been finalized and registered with the Court, it can then be enforced in the same manner as a court order. 

How is the Amount of Spousal Support Determined?

The amount of support one spouse is required to pay to the other is determined by a variety of factors, including:

  • The length of their relationship
  • The amount of any child support payments being made by one spouse to the other
  • The spouses’ respective incomes
  • The ages of both spouses


At one point, spousal support payment amounts varied widely across Canada. The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines were created to make payment amounts more uniform across provinces. These guidelines use formulas to calculate an appropriate level of spousal support based on the criteria listed above.  Two formulas are used: one, to calculate an appropriate range of spousal support in cases when one party is paying child support, and another for situations wherein the parties have no dependent children. 

Courts are not required to apply these formulas when making a spousal support order. However, Courts generally follow the guidelines to determine an appropriate amount of spousal support payments unless there is a good reason not to apply their recommendations. 

How Long Does a Spousal Support Order Last? 

Sometimes the Court will order one spouse to make support payments for a specific length of time, but spousal support orders often last indefinitely.  This does not mean that the spouse required to make payments must continue doing so forever; rather, there is no defined end date at the time the order is made. 

When spouses come to an agreement with respect to spousal support, they may also agree to review the payment at a later date, or upon a certain event (such as the re-marriage of the spouse who receives support payments). During these reviews of spousal support orders, the payer and recipient can re-evaluate the requirement for support payments to continue, and the amount of payments made in the future. 

Can You Make Changes to a Spousal Support Order? 

No one expects things to stay the same forever. There are mechanisms in place to change a spousal support agreement, if necessary. Couples negotiating a spousal support agreement may include a formal means of determining when the amount of monthly spousal support payments should be re-valuated and, if need be, adjusted. 

If you have a court order for spousal support, or if you and your ex-spouse are unable to come to an agreement about adjusting your current order, the Court can issue changes to a spousal support order when there is a change in circumstances. These may include:

  • The re-marriage of either spouse
  • Changes in employment
  • Retirement
  • Children finishing school and becoming independent

What Happens if Your Spouse Fails to Make a Spousal Support Payment? 

The Family Responsibility Office enforces the payment of spousal support in Ontario. Court orders are automatically sent to the FRO for enforcement purposes.  Spouses may opt out of paying support through the Family Responsibility Office and may choose to pay support to each other directly.

Contact Cohen Highley LLP’s Family Law Lawyers Today

The content presented in this article is not intended to act as legal advice. Instead it is intended to act as a general overview on a legal topic. For more specific legal advice or if you have any questions about how spousal support works in Ontario – contact Cohen Highley LLP’s team of family lawyers. With offices in London, Kitchener, Sarnia, Strathroy, Stratford and Chatham – we make it easy for residents of Southwestern Ontario to get access to justice.  Contact us today to learn about your rights and obligations. 

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