The topics in the Dial-A-Law series provide only general information on legal issues within the province of Alberta. This service is provided by Calgary Legal Guidance funded in part by the Alberta Law Foundation. The purpose is to make you aware of your legal rights and responsibilities. This is not legal advice. If you require legal advice, you should contact a lawyer.
This topic discusses spousal and child financial support for legally married couples only.
After your marriage breaks down, you and you spouse still have an obligation to provide the necessities of life to your dependent spouse and children. Spousal support will probably not be granted if there are no children of the marriage and both of you are able to support yourself. The Court will consider the financial status of both you and your spouse and the circumstances of your marriage. If you cannot support yourself, then spousal support is likely to be ordered. For example, a mother who has stopped working to raise a child cannot support herself until the child is old enough or she has taken some training to get back into the work force.
Financial support may be ordered for a specified period or last indefinitely. For example, the Court may order spousal financial support end when you begin to receive Canada Pension benefits or if you remarry. If you are the one to pay spousal support and you remarry, you must continue to pay your former spouse support payment because the situation in which they were entitled to support has not changed.
You can ask for support payments either in a lump sum or in regular payments. Lump sums are unusual payments. Sometimes the Court may award both. You may receive one large payment so you can buy a house or a car in order to get established and then receive regular payments to support your daily life.
Child support may be claimed for a child who is under 18 years. The child may be a child of the marriage, an adopted child or a child that you have cared for on a permanent basis. If you married someone who had a child and you acted as a parent toward that child and financially support that child, then you may be ordered to continue paying financial support. Your obligation to pay child support does not stop if the parent with custody of the child remarried.
Spousal and/or child support may be arranged by agreement between you and your spouse or by applying for a Court Order where there is no agreement. Where you and your spouse can agree on support, a formal agreement should be made by a lawyer. Alternatively, you may make your own agreement, and enter that agreement into the Family Court by applying for a Consent Order.
If you cannot agree and need to ask the Court to award the appropriate support payments, then you may apply to the Family and Youth Division of Provincial Court, or to the Court of Queen’s Bench. If you do not intend to file for divorce in the near future, apply to the Family and Youth Division of Provincial Court. In Provincial Court, you can present the facts to the Judge without a lawyer.
Your spouse will also be given a chance to tell the Judge their side of the facts. If your spouse appears with a lawyer, you are advised to ask the Judge for an adjournment to get yourself a lawyer as well.
A Support Application package is available from the Provincial Court to assist you. Once you have completed the forms and returned them, a Court date will be set for a Hearing. You must serve your spouse Notice of the Court date.
If divorce proceedings have started, apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench. This Court is a higher Court than the Family Court and more formal. You should hire a lawyer to represent you. You can ask for an ‘interim’ Support Order which will be incorporated into the final divorce settlement.
An award for child support must comply with the Federal Child Support Guidelines. Information on the Child Support Guidelines is available from the Family Law Information Centers. Their phone numbers in Calgary is 403-297-6600 and in Edmonton 780-415-0404. For toll-free access to these offices from elsewhere in Alberta, the Government Rite line is 310-0000. The Court will refuse to issue a Child Support Order, which does not comply with the Federal Child Support Guidelines.
All Support Orders can be changed or varied if circumstances change dramatically and permanently for either you or your spouse. You would make an application to the Court to vary your Support Order. For example, if your spouse received a promotion with a large pay increase, you would have reason to ask the Court to vary the Order. You would not have reason if your spouse received a Christmas bonus.
Support Orders are enforced by the Maintenance Enforcement Program of Alberta. The spouse obligated to pay would send a cheque directly to the Director of Maintenance Enforcement. Once the cheque has cleared the bank, the Director sends a government cheque to the spouse entitled to receive the support payment. Maintenance Enforcement cannot enforce Agreements or Contracts made between the spouses. If you have an agreement you may want to apply to the Court for a Consent Order so that the Order can be enforced by Maintenance Enforcement. You may also opt out of the Maintenance Enforcement Program by filling out the appropriate forms available form the Courts. Only the person who receives the support payments can opt out of the Program.