Family Law / Divorce Library

Our library contains very general information about various areas of the law. It is written by lawyers who are listed in our directory and provide legal coaching or limited scope legal services.

We're continuously adding to this Library, parts of it may be incomplete.

You're Viewing:

Spousal Support:
Calculating the Amount of Spousal Support Payable

Calculating the Amount of Spousal Support Payable

A difference in income doesn't automatically result in spousal/partner support, first the recipient must prove Entitlement.

The amount of spousal support or partner support is in the discretion of the judge, taking into account the factors discussed in Spousal Support and Partner Support Basics.

However, the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAG), while not law, are a useful starting point.

The first step is to determine each spouse's Guideline Income. For spousal support, where income fluctuates up and down, we might use an even longer average, for example 5 years (Shaw v Shaw, 2015 ABCA 11 at para 6).

Child support is then calculated before calculating spousal support, both section 3 and section 7 child support.

SSAG recommends that where child support isn't being paid (the "Without Child Support Formula", the recommended amount of spousal support is generally 1.5% to 2% of the difference between the spouses' gross incomes (before tax) for each year of cohabitation, up to a maximum of 50%. Once marriages are 25 years or longer, the range is 37.5 to 50% of the difference. There is also a net income cap: support should not exceed 50% of net after-tax income.

Where child support is being paid (the "With Child Support Formula"), SSAG's recommended starting range is between 40% to 46% of the difference in the spouses' individual net disposable incomes (INDI). INDI is calculated by deducting income tax, tax deductions, tax credits, child support paid, and notional child support (what a spouse would have had to pay, if they're not required to pay because the children reside primarily with them). Section 7 expenses must also be deducted (this is the most common calculation error. See Common Errors).

We often calculate support differently prior to trial, known as an interim spousal support application/order. For example, we have to be sensitive to the payment of expenses and debts until property can be divided.

Spousal support can be varied when there is a sufficient change in circumstances. For example, the amount paid usually wouldn't continue when the payor retires. If the recipient receives a significant property award, they may also be expected to earn income based on investments they can make, which may be added to their income. It might also be reviewed, for example after the recipient retrains, or to see the effect of future raises.

Because spousal support awards are supposed to promote the economic self-sufficiency of each spouse within a reasonable period of time, in so far as practicable, we sometimes set a higher guideline income for a recipient who is not working full-time (see Imputing Income). This is generally where they've behaved in a manner showing evasion of their capacity to be wholly or partially self-sufficient during the time that spousal support was ordered (Shigehiro v Shigehiro, 2017 ABCA 392 at paras 55, 59). However, we might not do so where a spouse who has been out of the workforce for many years, their spouse earns a significant income, and they are at an older age, such as in their 60s. A long-term spouse who has enjoyed a high standard of living because of a high earning spouse need not work and live at minimum wage (Corbeil v. Corbeil, 2001 ABCA 220 at para 47; Thompson v Thompson, 2019 ABCA 7 at para 5). It might also not be realistic to expect someone to return to the income they earned prior to children when they have been out of the workforce for several years, particularly without retraining. A Vocational Assessment or Evaluation may help to determine whether there is a realistic path to employment or retraining. Sometimes a review date is set, to see what income a person was able to make after retraining.

Where the payor earns gross annual income of $350,000 or higher (the "ceiling"), SSAG leaves the amount up to the judge's discretion rather than recommending a formula. Similarly no support is usually paid when the payor earns $20,000 or lower (the "floor"). So that there isn't a sharp cliff, when a payor earns less than $30,000 SSAG states that judges may award no support or support below the calculated ranges.

There is a different calculation for Lump Sum Spousal Support.

The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines discuss several other exceptions to the ordinary calculation, such as:

  • compelling financial circumstances in the interim period (for example where a spouse has to pay a house's expenses until it can be sold);

  • to account for debt payments, especially before assets and debts are divided;

  • Where a payor is already paying support to a prior spouse or for children from another relationship;

  • illness and disability, in which case SSAG doesn't recommend a higher amount or duration, but it suggests restructuring (for example smaller payments for a longer duration, or a lump sum to help with mobility or renovations to accommodate the disability);

  • the compensatory exception in short marriages, which is where a spouse has experienced a significant economic loss as a result of the marriage, for example by moving or leaving their employment for the relationship;

  • Where a recipient has little to no income, the amount of monthly spousal support would be low, and they are not receiving child support, the basic needs/hardship exception may require restructuring support so that a higher amount is paid, but for a shorter duration;

  • Non-taxable income may need to be grossed-up for taken into account (see Imputing Income);

  • If the children do not reside primarily with the recipient of spousal support, but the recipient's parenting role impacts their ability to earn income (for example, providing after-school care despite the children residing primarily with the other parent), then the non-primary parent fulfilling a parental role exception may apply to extend the duration of support;

  • The needs of a child with special needs may affect the amount or duration of spousal support; and

  • If there is a strong Compensatory entitlement to spousal support but the calculation recommends a very small amount of spousal support because of the significant amount of child support for 3 or more children or large section 7 expenses, the duration of spousal support might be extended beyond the recommended maximum duration.

Sometimes a person earns income from their share of family property (for example one spouse might keep a house and the other a pension which will bring them income in retirement). To avoid double-counting, where practicable, we focus on the payor's income which doesn't originate from assets which have already been equalized (Boston v Boston, 2001 SCC 43 at para 64).

Lawyers use complex calculators, ChildView or DivorceMate, to calculate spousal/partner support. There is an online support calculator located at which will perform a very basic calculation for free, however that calculation may not be accurate. You can hire a lawyer in a limited scope basis to perform a support calculation for you. See our Directory for a list of lawyers who perform limited scope work:

Want to receive new and updated Library content by email?

You're Viewing:

Spousal Support:
Calculating the Amount of Spousal Support Payable


Content by Ken Proudman of BARR LLP (Edmonton)

Last updated on November 12, 2022

This page has not yet received a complete review.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this Library is provided by generous volunteer lawyers. It is not legal advice, and does not represent the views of the Alberta Legal Coaches and Limited Services Society. The listed authors have only added paragraphs, and have not reviewed the entire document, nor any subsequent edits. You should not rely entirely on this material, we strongly recommend that you consult a lawyer. By using this website in any way, you agree to be bound by our Terms of Use.

© 2021 to 2024 Alberta Legal Coaches and Limited Services Society.

DISCLAIMER: The information herein is not legal, tax, or accounting advice or opinions. This website contains content and files submitted by third parties, to which you download or view at your own risk. The Alberta Legal Coaches and Limited Services Society is merely a directory, it is not responsible for the actions or omissions of the lawyers listed in its directory. By using this website, you agree to release the Alberta Legal Coaches and Limited Services Society, its agents, employees, and directors from all present and future claims and liability, including liability arising from any negligence.

View full Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy