When it comes to spousal support payments, one might assume that the obligation to pay support will stop or be reduced with retirement. However, if you have had a lengthy marriage and pay spousal support, this will not automatically change with retirement. A spousal support lawyer can help you to understand the case law surrounding spousal support and how it pertains to retirement. Let’s take a look at some of the cases highlighting the principles.
A Material Change in Circumstances
Under the Divorce Act, in order to change a court order for spousal support, there must be “a material change to the means, needs, conditions or circumstances of either party.” A payor spouse whose income drops significantly, retires for medical reasons, or reaches the expected age of retirement, may be relieved of the obligation or have the spousal support reduced. However, this isn’t always the case. While retirement may bring about significant life changes, this doesn’t always satisfy the “material change” necessary to vary a spousal support order.
What About Early Retirement?
A payor spouse who has reached the expected age of retirement, or who retires early for medical reasons, may fairly be relieved of an obligation to continue spousal support payments or have that obligation reduced. However, early retirement is not a direct basis for termination of spousal support. The courts consider the motivation for retirement. For instance, if the payor voluntarily stops working in order to end their support, the motivation for retirement will not go unnoticed. This will militate against a finding of a material change. Even if the early retirement was not only for this reason, a cessation of spousal support is not guaranteed. For instance, in Young v. Young, 2011 BCSC 887, the defendant, Mr. Young was forced into mandatory retirement by his employer, when he was 57 years old. He then sought repeal of a spousal support order and termination of his support obligation. However, it was found that this did not constitute a material change in circumstances, as Mr. Young simply acquiesced to the employer’s decision, and could have taken active steps to find other employment, as would a payor spouse be expected to whose employment contract has been terminated through notice.
Changes to Spousal Support Summary
If you think retirement will change your spousal support obligations, you might want to think again. While retirement and early retirement may bring about significant life changes, they do not necessarily satisfy the legal definition of “material change” needed to vary a support order.