Does Spousal Support End When New Relationships Start?
Like everything in family law, spousal support and your right to it are different shades of gray. Nothing is black and white, and therefore nothing is an easy, yes or no answer.
In part it depends on what came first? Spousal support or a new spouse. In part it depends on the reason you’re entitled to spousal support. In part it depends on the financial well-being of your ex, you, and your new spouse. In part it depends on the how long you have been with your new spouse.
The famous lawyer answer that all people hate to hear: It depends.
The purpose of spousal support is to recognize that a marriage (or a marriage-like relationship) is a partnership where the spouses are normally financially interdependent. The longer spouses are together, generally the more financially interconnected and interdependent they become. Spousal support orders are meant to recognize the advantages and disadvantages that arise out of a relationship and on the breakdown of a relationship.
Some of the advantages of being in a relationship is that you and your partner can share everything. You don’t need two toasters, two fridges, two ovens, two televisions (although you might choose to have two televisions), two houses, two cars. You and your spouse are able to share.
Another advantage is that you and your partner can share parenting responsibilities in the same house. Like you and your spouse, the children do not need two of everything.
In some cases one spouse has the advantage of the other spouse staying home and primarily taking care of the home and the children so that they can focus on their career. So long as you are together that is an advantage to both of you. Once you separate, it suddenly becomes a disadvantage for that person who was home to take care of the children and the home and make the career focused spouse’s life easier.
Breakdowns of relationships are expensive!
Disadvantages from the breakdown of the relationship include that suddenly you realize that you need two of everything. There are now two houses, two cars, two bedrooms, two TVs, two cable accounts, two hydro accounts, two fridges, two stoves, two of Billy’s bedrooms. This can be extremely costly
Suddenly, the spouse who stayed home and has been out of the workforce for 10-20 years needs a job to pay for one of those homes, cars, bedrooms, cable accounts, hydro accounts, grocery bills. The spouse who’s been working has an easy job maintaining a $200,000 per year job because of all of his training and experience, but the spouse who stayed home has a hard time finding anything that will pay over $20,000 per year.
So if spousal support is meant to recognize those advantages and disadvantages, apportion the financial consequences of relationship breakdown between the spouses, relieve economic hardship due to the relationship breakdown, and promote self-sufficiency of the spouses, the answer “it depends”makes total sense. It will depend on what the advantages and disadvantages are in your specific situation.
For example, if you move in with a new spouse but you are entitled to spousal support based on the compensatory basis (meaning that you are being compensated for staying home with the children while your ex-spouse worked, and in order to recognize your contributions to the home), then it will not likely matter that you and a new spouse are together. The fact that you are living with someone else does not change the fact that you made your contributions to the original family and that you should be compensated for that contribution.
On the other hand, if you are receiving spousal support on a “needs” basis (meaning that you need spousal support to maintain your standard of living after separation, have a great deal of debt that needs to be furnished, or just need some support to get by), if your living with your new spouse or marrying your new spouse reduces that need, spousal support will likely need to be reduced or end.
Another example is that if you and your new spouse have been living together for a long time and you were dating at the time of the original support order, the fact that you and your new spouse get married will not likely have an effect on the spousal support. If, however, you and your new spouse are together for a long period of time and over time your ex-spouse is doing worse and you are doing better, spousal support will likely need to be reduced or end.