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How To Calculate Spousal Support in British Columbia

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  • How To Calculate Spousal Support in British Columbia

Calculating spousal support in British Columbia is a process that involves a multitude of factors, primarily based on the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs). The SSAGs take into account various considerations such as the length of the marriage, the roles during the marriage, and the income of both parties.

The first step in calculating spousal support is determining whether a spouse is entitled to support. Factors that influence this decision include the financial discrepancy between the spouses, the duration of the relationship, roles during the relationship, and the effect of those roles on each party’s current financial situation.

After establishing the entitlement, the amount of support is assessed. Generally, the income of both parties is considered. The SSAGs provide low, mid, and high-range estimates for spousal support based on the gross income of each spouse and the length of their relationship.

Considering Different Types of Income

Considering Different Types of Income

When determining how to calculate spousal support in BC, the source and type of income can greatly affect the final calculation. Here are a few different types of income that could come into play:

  1. Employment Income: This is the most straightforward type of income to account for. Regularly received salaries, wages, and benefits are considered in calculating spousal support.
  2. Self-Employment Income: Calculating spousal support for self-employed individuals may require a more thorough examination, as they often have various business deductions that can lower their taxable income.
  3. Investment Income: Dividends, interest, and other returns on investments are also considered as income for spousal support purposes.
  4. Corporate Income: For spouses who earn income through a corporation, such as shareholders, directors, or officers, the situation becomes more complex. Corporate profits, losses, taxes, and other considerations must be analyzed to arrive at a number that fairly reflects all the money available for the payment of spousal support.

In situations where the payor spouse’s annual T1 income does not fairly reflect all the money available for the payment of spousal support, some or all of the pre-tax corporate income may be added to the payor spouse’s income.

A General Step By Step Guide

Here’s a general step-by-step guide on how to calculate spousal support in BC. Keep in mind that this is a simplified guide, and actual calculations can be quite complex due to various factors including types of income, tax implications, and more. It is highly recommended to reach out to one of our attorneys for advice tailored to your specific situation.

A General Step By Step Guide

Step 1: Determine Entitlement

The first step is to determine whether a spouse is eligible for spousal support. This is based on several factors, including:

  • The financial means, needs, and circumstances of both spouses
  • The length of the relationship
  • The roles each spouse had during the relationship
  • The impact of those roles on the current financial situation
  • Whether any arrangements were made regarding spousal support

Step 2: Calculate the Payor’s and Recipient’s Incomes

The next step is to determine the income of both spouses. This includes all types of income such as salaries, business income, rental income, dividends, etc. The calculation of income might require a review of tax returns, pay stubs, or business financial statements.

Step 3: Determine the Duration of Support

Once the incomes are calculated, the length of the spousal support is to be determined. Generally, if the marriage lasted less than 20 years, a rule of thumb is to pay spousal support for half to one year for each year of marriage. If the marriage lasted 20 years or more, or if the sum of the marriage length and the age of the recipient spouse at the time of separation totals 65 or more, spousal support may be indefinite.

Step 4: Use the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (SSAGs)

In British Columbia, the SSAGs provide a range of spousal support amounts based on the gross income of each spouse and the length of their relationship. The SSAGs are not legislated but are commonly used as they provide a standardized method of calculation. They also consider factors such as child support payments and the custodial arrangements for children.

Step 5: Consider Additional Factors

Several factors may lead to adjustments in the calculated spousal support. These include the needs and means of the parties, the ability to pay, the standard of living during the relationship, and each party’s ability to become self-sufficient. Other considerations include compensatory factors, such as significant financial disadvantages or advantages arising from the relationship or its breakdown.

Income issues: How is spousal support calculated?

Income issues: How is spousal support calculated?

For the most part, the income issues are the same as those for child support purposes. In fact, the starting point for the determination of income under the Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines (“SSAGs”) is the definition of income under the Federal Child Support Guidelines, and thus will require interpretation of the provisions of sections 15 to 20 of the Child Support Guidelines and Schedule III.

We have previously discussed corporate income in relation to the calculation of child support. Where the payor spouse is a shareholder, director, or officer of a corporation and the amount of the spouse’s annual T1 income does not fairly reflect all the money available to the spouse for the payment of child support, some or all of the pre‑tax corporate income may be added to the payor spouse’s income for the purposes of calculating child support. Other issues that may arise when calculating the amount of income available for the payment of support include how to deal with income from deemed dividends and proving business expenses.

How is spousal support calculated where income is in dispute?

How is spousal support calculated where income is in dispute?

The main issue on appeal in Mason v. Mason, 2016 ONCA 725 was whether any portion of the profits of a corporation now wholly owned by the husband as a result of the marriage breakdown should be added to his income for spousal support purposes. During their almost 20 years of marriage, the parties had two children and worked together to build a highly successful recreational equipment business. Following the parties’ separation in November 2011, the wife continued to work full-time in the business until August 2012, when she began working part-time. The wife stopped working in the business in January 2013. For the 2013 fiscal year, the business sustained an after-tax loss of $235,067. However, during the preceding eight-year period, the business had generated after-tax profits, over and above the parties’ salaries and bonuses, averaging almost $355,000 per year.

At trial in 2014, the judge put the husband’s income and the business’ profits at $400,000 per year going forward for spousal support purposes, which produced a range for spousal support of $8,215 to $10,233 per month under the SSAGs. Holding that there was no reason to depart from the mid-range, the trial judge ordered the husband to pay to the wife $9,584 per month in spousal support. On appeal, spousal support was drastically reduced to $1,500 per month. The Court of Appeal noted while the SSAGs are advisory in nature, not mandatory, they must be applied properly and not in a piecemeal fashion. The problem with the trial decision is that the judge used the SSAGs to determine the range for support, but arrived at the $400,000 income figure without applying the SSAGs or explaining why they were inapplicable. Where a party’s income is in dispute, it makes little sense to determine the amount of spousal support payable solely by applying the SSAGs ranges without considering the SSAGs provisions for determining income.

How is spousal support calculated when applying the SSAGs?

How is spousal support calculated when applying the SSAGs?

The appellate decision in Mason v. Mason cautioned against defaulting to the mid-range amount of spousal support and emphasized that the SSAGs are not to be used as a software tool or a formula that calculates a specific amount of support for a set period of time. The SSAGs must be considered in context and require careful attention to the actual incomes, or the income earning capacities, of both spouses:

 [199]   The Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines: The Revised User’s Guide[21] provides that courts should avoid the tendency to “default” to the mid-range amount of spousal support. Section 9 of the 2016 Revised User’s Guide explicitly states, “[t]he mid-point of the SSAG ranges for amount should NOT be treated as the default outcome.” In determining the appropriate quantum of support within the range, a court is required to consider the support factors and objectives found in the Divorce Act and the Family Law Act. The SSAGs also provide a number of factors to consider while choosing a location within the range, including the strength of the recipient’s compensatory claim, the recipient’s need, property division and debts, and the payor’s needs and ability to pay.

The bottom line on calculation of income for spousal support purposes

The Mason v. Mason decision underscores the complexities involved in answering “How is spousal support calculated?” where one (or both) of the spouses has corporate income. What is clear is that regardless of the source of income, the SSAGs are not to be used as a software tool or formula whereby one merely plugs in the income figures, obtains a range, and defaults to the midpoint. Family law litigants require experienced legal counsel to determine the appropriate amount of support. If you have questions about how spousal support is calculated, contact Onyx Law Group’s team of experienced family lawyers in Vancouver at (604) 900-2538.

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