Does spousal support end on death?
Family law has long been clear on the question of spousal support in that it is provided to satisfy the needs of the spouse during his/her lifetime and the entitlement to support does not survive the death of the recipient.
Whether this remains the status quo may have been put into question with the recent Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench decision in Marasse Estate. In this case, the couple’s separation agreement required the husband to pay monthly support to the wife for five years. The wife passed away after the husband had made only a few payments, and her estate trustee sought the remaining payments. The husband resisted the claim, asserting that the premise underlying the support was the wife’s need. As she no longer had need, he should not be required to make further payments.
The Court concluded that the estate was entitled to continue to receive the support payments. It reasoned that the contractual agreement of the parties created a juristic reason to continue support for the following reasons:
1.The separation agreement contained the fairly standard enurement clause, which provides that the agreement enures to the parties’ heirs, executors etc.
2. The separation agreement contained a non-reviewability clause that states: “entitlement, quantum, and duration of spousal support is non-reviewable and may not be varied on any material change of circumstances.”
3. The separation agreement was comprehensive, negotiated with give and take on both sides, and it should be considered as a whole.
4. Actual need is not expressed in the agreement to be a precondition to payment. For instance, if the converse to the husband’s argument were true, being that the wife remained in financial need and lived longer than five years, the wife would not have been able to collect any further amounts.
Notably, the parties had also turned their minds in the agreement to what would happen if the husband died before all payments were made, as he agreed to maintain life insurance to secure support in the event of his death.
The Court found that the agreement was unambiguous, and could not be set aside as the parties to it (1) intended it to be a full and final resolution, and (2) there were no new circumstances not reasonably anticipated that led to a situation that could not be condoned.
A recent article found here discusses the Court’s decision.
Thanks for reading and have a good day,