Beyond feeling incredibly vulnerable, stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) face additional challenges when going through a divorce because they may not have access to income or assets of their own. No divorce is easy, but luckily for mothers who don’t work, it is possible to receive both spousal and child support in Alberta.
Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about divorce, stay-at-home moms and child support in Alberta.
FAQs About Divorce, Stay-At-Home-Moms and Child Support
As a stay-at-home mother, how do I qualify for child support in Alberta?
Child support in Alberta formalizes the financial obligations of parents to their children after separation. Technically, there is no way to avoid paying it. Any parent that fails to make payments for reasons that aren’t related to financial hardship may be subject to Alberta’s Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP).
The amount of child support paid depends on the agreed-upon living arrangements for your child. Regardless of whether you’re a stay at home mom or whether your ex has parenting time with them, they are still required to pay support.
This amount is based upon the income of the other parent, and the number of children you have. If parenting time is more or less equal, then each parent will have to pay child support to the other, but usually everyone agrees that the higher income parent will simply pay the difference.
You can calculate a rough estimate of child support payments with the help of the Federal child support calculator.
Will I receive child support for additional expenses related to child care?
Special expenses that supersede basic living costs are usually shared by parents proportionally to their incomes. This is for things like extracurricular activities, post-secondary education, medical expenses (both unexpected and planned, i.e., braces).
Federal guidelines deem these expenses necessary when they are
- in the child’s best interests
- reasonable given the means of the parents and child
- in line with the family’s spending patterns before separation
How long does child support last?
Child support continues for as long as the child, who may be over 18 years old, is unable to obtain life necessities. Other than mental or physical disabilities, the most common reason for prolonged child support is post-secondary education.
Read More: FAQs About Post Secondary Support In Alberta
What are the requirements to qualify for spousal support?
Unlike child support in Alberta, which is an automatic right of your child, spousal support (alimony) is discretionary. Although not automatically given, it is safe to assume it will be granted if you have been out of work for a significant period of time, i.e., you sacrificed your career to care for your child/children.
Of course, you will be required to prove this. Once entitlement is established, the amount paid is determined based on both spouses’ respective incomes, considering factors like your ages, your children’s ages and the length of your marriage or interdependent relationship.
Moms who have been in long-term marriages and who can’t become self-supporting, or whose job prospects are very limited may receive long-term alimony; however, it’s important to remember in most cases spousal support is primarily seen as a short-term solution to provide financial support for a spouse who makes a lower income or no income at all.
How much spousal support can I get, and how long will the payments last?
The courts consider many factors when determining the amount and duration of spousal support and it has often been quite difficult to prediict what a court will order. A number of years ago, the federal government came up with Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAG”) to help reduce some of the uncertainy. The SSAG do not have to be used by the courts, but most courts will ask the parties to prepare SSAG calculations: The SSAG calculations always produce a range of possible outcomes, both for the amount of support,and for the duration. These factors include things like:
- Whether there are children, how old they are, and who is responsible for paying child support
- How long the spouses cohabited
- How old the recipient is when the parties separated
- The difference in how child support and spousal support is taxed as income
What if our family situation changes? Can my support change?
It’s possible to change a child support order or spousal support agreement for stay-at-home-moms if circumstances change.
- A parent experiences a salary increase or decrease
- There is a change in parenting arrangements
- You incur special expenses on behalf of your child
- Your child turns 18 years old
- You can no longer work
What if an ex-spouse can’t afford to pay spousal and child support?
In both Canadian federal and provincial laws, children’s rights are prioritized before their parents’. If an ex-spouse cannot afford to pay both, the amount of spousal support will decrease. In this scenario, it may be possible for the court to increase spousal support after children are grown and no longer need child support.
Note: Child support in Alberta is not a replacement for spousal support, so much so that parents cannot legally waive child support when negotiating divorce.
What happens if my ex quits their job to avoid having to pay support?
If a parent is intentionally unemployed or even just underemployed in order to avoid their payment responsibilities, the court can deem that parent to have the income that they should be able to earn. The court will look at the parent’s previous year’s income or at their income earning capabilities to act accordingly.
This doesn’t mean a parent can’t accept a new position with a lower pay grade to spend time with their family. Nor, does it mean a stay-at-home mother has to suddenly find work just because she is divorced. It only comes into effect if the court finds the decision was intentionally made to decrease child support.
This situation can be really difficult, so it is important to get legal advice about what to do if you think this is happening in your situaiton.
As a stay-at-home mom, should I get a job before or after the divorce?
Two families cannot live as cheaply as one. Our general advice is when possible for your family, find employment if and as soon possible because earning an income is far more empowering than relying on spousal support alone, which is often not enough to live off. Employment income also comes with security and financial resources if your spouse withholds support or resources from you.
However, this is easier said than done, especially if your children need daycare or if you have been out of the job market for a long time and need to upskill to earn a decent salary. In other cases, some mothers receive a large divorce settlement and are fortunate enough not to have to return to work.
Every mother’s circumstances are different, but as a general rule of thumb, you should work towards becoming financially independent.
Complex issues including the age of your children, undue hardship, second families, determining income, arrears, parenting time and varying support require a great deal of attention to detail and careful calculations to ensure stay-at-home moms receive fair financial support. This is why spousal and child support litigation is best discussed with a family lawyer who can protect your rights and guide you through all aspects of divorce as a stay-at-home mother.
Calgary Divorce and Family Lawyer Charles Fair
Canada’s family laws are governed by federal and provincial laws. Family lawyers represent their clients in court and negotiate disputes between spouses and family members. Charles Fair has been practicing Divorce and Family Law for nearly 30 years. Charles Fair uses a multi-disciplinary, holistic perspective to work collaboratively and professionally with opposing counsel and litigants and when negotiated resolution is not possible, will advocate zealously in the courts with integrity, honour and courage.
Fair Legal handles all types of family legal matters to protect you, your children and your property. Contact us at (403) 239-2249 to schedule a confidential meeting with a member of our legal team.
Calgary lawyer Charles Fair brings over 30 years of experience to Fair Legal in criminal, family and civil litigation. Charles draws on his personal experiences related to each field of law which helps him to understand and relate with each of his clients. He is compassionate, caring, and will always be your champion for justice when life gets messy.