The Supreme Court of Canada has decided that separated spouses will have more difficulty trying to vary spousal support payments from a previous order or agreement. In two appeals from the Quebec Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court refused to let payor spouses argue their way out of agreements negotiated and formalized into court orders several years earlier. The central issue was the need for the former spouses to show that there has been “a material change in circumstances” that would justify a variation. In the first case, the couple were married in 1988. The wife was then diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and has ceased working outside the home. They separated in 2002 and reached a comprehensive agreement that gave the wife spousal support of $3,688 a month. In 2007, the husband sought a reduction and eventual cancellation of his spousal support obligation on the grounds that he was no longer making as much money and that his ex-wife ought to have sought employment.

A trial judge concluded that the wife was able to work outside the home. He ordered a reduction of support leading to its termination. The ruling was affirmed by the Quebec Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court decided that the circumstances did not amount to a “change in circumstances” and ordered the original agreement amount of spousal support to be paid to the wife.In the second case, the couple were married in 1958 and separated in 1974. The husband agreed to pay $1,950 per month in spousal and child support. In 2008, the husband applied to terminate his spousal support obligation based on a stock-market downturn that had caused him serious losses.The Quebec Court of Appeal ordered that his payments be gradually reduced and finally. However, the Supreme Court of Canada overruled the decision and stated that the husband had never revealed his actual losses, which did not prove whether there had been a material change in circumstances.

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