When does permanent spousal support end?

Posted on Nov 20, 2020 by Katie Carter

Spousal support cases are some of the trickiest. Even though the law has changed recently to allow Fairfax guidelines to be applied in temporary support cases, permanent support cases are a little more tricky.

The law also changed in terms of the taxability and deductibility of awards of spousal support; under the current laws, spousal support is not taxable to the person receiving it nor tax deductible to the person paying it.

That sounds good, right. Tax free money is the best money, right? Well, maybe not – because, you see, the tax deductibility portion was the only inducement a husband (assuming husband is the payor spouse) had for paying it. Instead, under this iteration of the law, there’s absolutely no motivation for paying it, no incentive for doing the right, honest, decent thing. It’s considerably cheaper to spend the money on litigation, even considering the outrageous costs associated with litigation. Especially when you consider that, in a spousal support case, you have one high earning spouse and one low earning spouse – so the low earning spouse’s ability to fight back in litigation is diminished, at best, and non-existent, at worst.

Look, I’ll just go ahead and say it:

When it comes to the recipient spouse, the laws surrounding spousal support are not particularly forgiving.

Do you need the money to survive? Well, then, you’ll have to function within a system that is constantly trying to deny your need – and your contributions to the marriage – to receive it.

When you combine this – the restrictions on taxability and deductibility of spousal support– with some of the other limitations associated with spousal support – like the fact that committing adultery is a bar to receiving it (but has no impact on the payor spouse, at least in the spousal support context), it’s all very rigid.

But, like, you really need support? Well, if you’ve committed adultery (even the phrasing of that – committing adultery – ick!), it’s a bar to spousal support.

The only way to overcome the bar is to prove that, if you are not awarded support, it would create manifest injustice.

Manifest injustice? Does that sound pretty extreme? Well, that’s because it is. And the court looks very seriously at a situation before deciding whether or not manifest justice exists. So, not only is it difficult to rise above the bar set against your right to receive support by virtue of your extramarital relationship, legally speaking, it’s also inherently expensive, with no guarantee of success.

How can a lesser earning spouse be expected to fight against this challenge, mounted by a higher earning spouse? It’s difficult, that’s for sure. It’s also probably going to be expensive, as the best way to mount a real defense is going to be by enlisting the support of various experts and witnesses – potentially a vocational expert, doctors, therapists, and others who can testify to your ability or inability to work, based on your physical, mental, or emotional limitations.

The court can’t force you to get a job, but imputation is always an issue – as is, of course, the contention that if you’re involved in a serious relationship that you shouldn’t be able to derive your support from your aggrieved (please, though you can’t hear me, infer my tone of sarcasm here) spouse.

Of course, even if you do achieve an award of spousal support – whether by agreement, or through litigation (and whether you meet the standard of manifest injustice through the process of litigation) – your award of permanent spousal support might be terminable for several other reasons, too!

1. Death of either spouse.

If either you or he dies, that ends support. Probably no surprise, of course, because he’s dead, so he can’t keep paying it.

This, though, is why life insurance, or survivor benefit policies are so important for wives receiving spousal support!

2. Your remarriage.

Spousal support is rooted in common law. In the olden days, a man took on the responsibility of supporting a woman (which he took from the girl’s father) after marriage. After divorce, he maintained that responsibility – unless and until she remarried.

It’s not so cut and dry, or so misogynistic, these days, but the roots in the old common law remain. Remarriage will end even a permanent award of spousal support.

3. Your continued cohabitation in a relationship analogous to marriage for a period of one year or more.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that remarriage would end spousal support. What may surprise you, though, is that you could lose your support, however heard earned, by cohabitating with a person in a relationship analogous to marriage for more than a year.

I’m not talking about a roommate here, though. I’m talking about someone with whom you have a bona fide relationship, and from whom you draw support. That’s not to say that you don’t provide some support, both monetary and nonmonetary, to your partner as well. But, at some point, the two of you become a couple to the degree that you risk losing your spousal support.