Spousal Support Obligations End When Wife Fails To Find Work After 22 Years

Written on behalf of Arbesman Hamilton LLP

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 Arbesman Hamilton LLP,
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.