What are the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines?
The introduction of the Child Support Guidelines successfully reduced the amount of litigation over child support. This prompted the federal government to commission two leading family law professors to create similar guidelines for the payment of spousal support. The result was the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (the “SSAGs”).
Unlike the child support guidelines, the SSAGs are not law, which must be followed in every case. However, judges will nearly always take them into consideration when making spousal support awards.
The SSAGs differ from the child support guidelines in that they provide a range of possible support levels – low, mid, and high – and the duration of support is flexible. This means judges can tailor both the quantum and duration of support to reflect the particular circumstances of the relationship.
Spousal support calculations are complicated, particularly where the parties have children. Specialized software has been developed to factor in all the variables that go into determining the ranges of support.
Entitlement to spousal support is based on three possible heads: contractual, compensatory and non-compensatory.
The contractual head is present where the amount of spousal support (or a waiver thereof) is set out in a domestic contract such as a prenuptial agreement or marriage contract. In such cases the parties have decided between themselves what spousal support should be and, presuming the contract is valid, the SSAGs are not normally applied unless the contract makes reference to them.
Compensatory support seeks to compensate a spouse for sacrifices made (e.g. loss of career opportunities) during the relationship.
Non-compensatory support, also known as “need-based” support, seeks to help a spouse become self-sufficient after separation.
Many cases involve both these latter bases of support. For example, a spouse who stayed at home to care for children during a relationship may be entitled to both compensatory support for sacrificing career prospects and non-compensatory support to assist him or her as he or she seeks to re-enter the workforce.
The duration of spousal support is most often determined by considering the length of the marriage, although in certain cases the ages of the children can also be a factor.