I work harder than my ex. Why must I pay spousal support?

I work harder than my ex. Why must I pay spousal support?

Catherine works long hours to earn twice as much as her ex. Can she avoid paying him spousal support?

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Q: I live in British Columbia and I am separated. I am self-employed and earn double what my spouse earns. Would this automatically make my spouse eligible for spousal support? My spouse has a shorter work day and more holiday time then I do. So would the difference in the hours and the number of days worked be taken into account? I don’t wish to work more just to give my hard earned wages to my spouse. If my work hours equaled his I would make far less money. I would like to see my business grow but I am not willing to share it with my ex.

—Catherine

A: The laws regarding support falls under federal jurisdiction, and since I am not a lawyer I cannot quote the law. What I can tell you is this. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to awarding support. The only person who can deem what you must pay is a judge. Having said that, if you and your spouse are able to come to an agreement on your own, and you both have independent legal advice and have it documented by way of a separation agreement then that is also acceptable. I would never ever try to negotiate this on your own by way of saving on legal fees as that can always come back to hurt you financially. There are some rules and guidelines but they are all up for interpretation.

We explain support in this way. First, it is meant to equal the playing field for all parties, so as not to see one side greatly financially disadvantaged over the other spouse. The fact that you work more hours to derive the income you do really has little or no bearing on the equation. Factors such as the length of your marriage, whether or not there are children of the marriage, whether your spouse supported you in ways that allowed you to work on your business would all be factors that a judge would consider.

You must also remember that any support you would pay by way of spousal support, is tax deductible to you, and taxable to your spouse. Sometimes, someone in your position finds it beneficial to come up with a lump sum settlement so that they are free to move on and grow their business without the threat of the ex-spouse wanting a share of the growth by way of increased support.

The last issue you might have is this. Your business would be classified as property, and under the property division laws of the province of British Columbia, it could have to be valued and shared with your ex-spouse. If this asset is also the asset that provides the income, this income might be impaired by debt required to share the asset. This then becomes double dipping. Each province has different rules regarding this issue. I would advise you to seek out a lawyer who specializes in family law and can give you some clarity.

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Debbie Hartzman is a Certified Financial Planner, a Chartered Life Underwriter, and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst in Kingston,Ont.  She is also the author of ‘Divorce is not easy, but it can be fair.’

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