Do I have to pay spousal support if I’m appealing?

Spousal support payments can be put on hold but the spouse who pays must first ask the court for permission.
Spousal support payments can be put on hold but the spouse who pays must first ask the court for permission. (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

A recent Ontario Court of Appeal decision asked this question and the answer was yes — unless a court told you otherwise.

An ex-husband was ordered to pay over $287,000 in late spousal support, because he refused to pay up while his case was under appeal.

The court had previously ordered the ex-husband to pay spousal support to his ex-wife but he didn’t do so and arrears accumulated.

The ex-wife brought a motion to stop the appeal until such time that the husband had paid her all owed support. The court sided with the wife and refused to hear the appeal until the husband had paid back all spousal support arrears.

The court said in this case that the husband couldn’t just unilaterally put the support orders on hold, stating: “In our view, where an appellant wishes to be relieved of his or her trial ordered obligations pending appeal, the proper approach is to bring a stay motion where the circumstances can be brought before the court.”

In other words, spousal support payments can be put on hold but the spouse who pays must first ask the court for permission.

When it comes to spousal support payments that former married couples either agreed to or that is court-ordered, courts are usually quite serious about seeing these enforced.

In 2011, the Supreme Court of Canada released a set of decisions in which ex-spouses tried to get out of agreed-upon spousal support payments but the court would have none of it.

The court stated that one of the only ways spousal support can be changed is if the paying spouse can prove to the court that there was a “material change of circumstances”, which usually means a major change in one of the spouses’ financial circumstances.

While getting spousal support changed can be difficult, refusing to pay it altogether is not allowed.

Consequences for refusing or failing to pay spousal support can be severe. In Ontario, the Family Responsibility Office can take actions against people who owe support, including:

  • Suspension of driver’s license;
  • Garnishing bank accounts;
  • Garnishing money the person in arrears receives from the government; and;
  • Putting a lien on his or her property.
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