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Intention in spousal support agreements important in Alberta law

When Mr. Bumble in Dickens' "Oliver Twist" complained that the law is a bachelor, he could not have been more wrong. The seriousness with which Alberta family law views and treats formal marriage equals the solemn intentions of any couple undertaking vows. When spouses decide to dissolve a legal union, their intentions regarding spousal support and other vital issues come under the same sober legal scrutiny.

When spousal support is a consideration, the court must thoroughly examine the financial state, present and future, of each spouse. Furthermore, the judge will take into account the couple's wishes regarding the amount, frequency and longevity of support payments. Often, these may form part of the separation agreement, and may be enforced as a separate court order during the divorce proceedings.

Family law courts in each province vary widely in their determinations according to the specific circumstances of each spousal support application. The court will strive to understand the intentions underlying the spouses' agreement. A recent example in Alberta required the court to address whether the support should cease, given the death of the spouse receiving payments.

The decision here was in stark contrast to decisions made in other provinces in similar cases. In this Alberta family law case, the paying spouse had acted to ensure spousal support by having taken out life insurance in the event that he predeceased his ex-wife. The court felt that he had bound his intention to the "non-reviewable" wording of the agreement. The insights of a family law lawyer experienced in how such scenarios might play out in an Alberta court might be most useful.

Source: Financial Post, "Zombie spousal support: When death doesn't end your obligations to your ex", Laurie H. Pawlitza, Feb. 8, 2018

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