It’s not uncommon for one parent to leave the workforce in order to work out of the home following the birth of children. While it’s great to be able to provide children with a home where one parent is present, it could lead to difficulties down the road if that parents wishes to return to the workforce. Spousal support orders can account for this difficulty by requiring one party to pay support to the other until they are able to once again find employment. But is there a limit to how long it should take someone to find work? This was a question recently put toward the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

The marriage and separation

The parties separated in 1994 after being married for 15 years. Upon their divorce in 1996, the husband was ordered to pay spousal support in the amount of $4,750 on an indefinite basis. That said, the award was written under the premise that the wife would quickly return to the workforce. She left the workforce upon the birth of their first child. The husband had a good job, making $390,000 the year of the divorce and eventually going on to earn a salary in excess of $1 million per year.

Two Motions

The wife never did return to work. Her income since the separation had been almost entirely from spousal support. At the time of the trial, she had a net worth of $781,112. Husband had applied to the court seeking to terminate his spousal support obligations. However the wife was looking for an increase in spousal support.

The husband’s position was that after 22 years the wife should have been able to find employment. However, the wife argued she was not able to. She told the court she was “frustrated in her attempts to find work because of the residual impact of having been out of the workforce and at home with the children for ten years during the marriage. Additionally, she suffered further disadvantage from having relocated to Toronto, where she had no business contacts, which she did for the benefit of the respondent’s career and to the detriment of her own. She also sought to introduce evidence that she suffered from depression, which prevented her not only from obtaining meaningful work, but also from even looking for work.”

At trial, the court found she had not made any serious attempts to obtain employment. The court found that the only way she could be made to reach a state of self-sufficiency would be through the termination of support. The court ruled in favor of the husband and awarded him $50,000 in costs.

On appeal

The wife appealed on a couple of grounds, including that the trial judge had put too much weight in self-sufficiency as an objective of the Divorce Act. However, the court did not agree with her, finding the trial judge gave the goal of self-sufficiency proper weight, stating “ It does not follow, from that submission, that an unreasonable emphasis was placed on the objective of self-sufficiency. In determining whether support ought to be terminated, while self-sufficiency was a factor of particular importance, the motion judge specifically assessed each of the objectives under s. 17(7) of the Act. None of the objectives spoke in favour of continued support.”

While the court recognized that terminating support rather than altering it is a harsh move, it was made with the wife’s net worth in mind. The court agreed with the motion judge hat any hardship the wife would face as a result of the decision was a result of her own “improvident choices.”

At NULaw, we understand the difficult situations faced by families going through divorce or separation. We have an experienced and professional team of family law lawyers with an extensive knowledge of the family law system. We rely on our experience to offer our clients exceptional service by combining big firm results with a small firm relationship. Our lawyers are forward-thinking, adaptable, and innovative. We work to protect our clients’ rights in a way that is meant to avoid costly litigation, but we will fight tirelessly on their behalf when necessary. Please call us at 416-481-5604 or reach us online to see how we can assist you in your family law matter.

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