Karen R

While preparing to reach a separation agreement, my spouse and I each consulted a lawyer find out what our obligations to each other were. This process led to some troubling discoveries, at least concerning the payor, especially where the receiving spouse is on disability.

The fact that my ex-husband is on disability means that the court can order me to pay spousal support “indefinitely.” This means first, that I may face the loss of certain freedoms: the freedom to retire when I wish, the freedom to change jobs (to a lesser paying one) if I so choose, the freedom of movement, and the freedom to spend my own money as I see fit.

I am not able to move away from where I currently live to retire in a small town and/or take a job there, as I would never be able to earn what I currently do. The court expects me to maintain my current level of earning because I am “capable of earning” it. But this is unrealistic. In my industry, I would never be able to get another job at my current rate of pay. And since the court requires me to maintain this level of income, my movement is restricted. Likewise, if I ever came to dislike my job, that would be my tough luck. I’d have to stay, whether I wanted to or not.

The support that is calculated at the mid-range winds up being more than half of my net earnings. This is because monies other than employment income, such as investment earnings, are included in the calculation, which is based on my tax return. Any earnings made on monetary gifts from before the marriage, or after the marriage, such as an inheritance, are up for grabs. Any monies and their earnings that are in my name, but that neither of us contributed to during the marriage, are on the table. The monthly support I pay is unaffordable on my salary alone – even though while we were married, that is what we lived on. Now, to pay support, I must use funds I have set aside for my retirement.

My former husband’s disability is seen to be my problem. The fact that I must pay support indefinitely because he is disabled means that the government is making me a private welfare/disability pension provider. It is in effect abdicating its responsibility to its citizenry. Because the government does not wish to acquire wards of the state, it makes disabled divorcés wards of their ex-spouse instead.

This in turn means that I will have financial obligations to my ex-spouse for the rest of my life. I do not consider this a divorce. While most people are unwilling to accept charity or be dependent on someone else, the ability to turn down charity or dependency is only possible if you have a real choice to be able to work. If you are disabled, the government forces you into a lifelong state of dependence on your ex-spouse. This is not freedom. This is not divorce for either party.

The law appears also to require a person to support an ex-spouse so that they may live in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Does this mean, then, that if I get laid off from my job, I am entitled to have my employer pay me for life because I’ve become accustomed to the lifestyle my job provided me? This is clearly absurd. Why then would it apply to spouses? It also has nothing to do with disability. If I was married for 10 years, I pay less in support than if I’d been married 20 years, but the degree of disability does not change as a result of the length of the marriage. The need for an income remains the same, a need that the government should be responsible for. Yet the government, because it pays an inadequate amount of social support expects the spouse to make up the shortfall, simply for having been married.

What lies ahead for me if, for example, my ex-husband’s condition worsens? Can I trust the advice of my own lawyer if the court has the authority to overrule the terms of a separation agreement? Will a future partner’s assets be protected from my ex-spouse?

I would like to see the following changes:

  • Limit spousal support to a set maximum period, say two years, and make the length of the marriage irrelevant. Long-term spouses should not be punished for their loyalty. Require any adult to be able to provide for themselves, and where they cannot, provide social, not private, assistance.
  • Provide a livable, guaranteed basic income to those who are disabled.
  • Remove all individual assets (gifts, inheritances) from the equation of spousal support.
  • Ensure the protection of a future spouse’s assets from the claims of a former spouse.
  • End the treatment of divorce as a punishable offence, essentially illegal in Canada.