The factors that must be considered when determining a fair spousal support arrangement are many and varied, and the agreements mediated between former partners vary a great deal. In general, though, matters of spousal support are decided in two stages of legal analysis. First, it must be determined whether the spouse seeking support is entitled to it. Second, if the spouse is entitled to support, then the amount and duration must be decided.
It should be noted also that formerly married spouses are not the only parties who may be entitled to support. In Alberta, the term "adult interdependent partner" encompasses common-law spouses and other adults who live together in a relationship of interdependence, and adult interdependent partners may also seek support after the end of a relationship if certain legal requirements are met.
Unlike child support, spousal support is not strictly governed by regulations and thus is negotiable, though spousal support orders are informed by the Federal Spousal Support Advisory Guidelines. Often fair spousal support arrangements can be negotiated out of court so that former partners can avoid costly and stressful litigation.
However, in accordance with Alberta's Family Law Act, which reflects to a large extent the factors set out in the Federal Divorce Act, when a judge is asked to make a decision regarding spousal support, the court will consider the following factors:
- How long the parties lived together
- The obligations and contributions of each party during that time
- Any existing order or agreement related to support
- Whether the person potentially obligated to pay support is also responsible for supporting someone else
- Whether the person to receive support is now living with another person who contributes to the household and thereby reduces the need for support
- Whether the person to pay support is now living with another person who contributes to the household and thereby increases the ability to pay support
The law also states that, in deciding spousal support, the court will not take into consideration misconduct by either party, except when conduct "unreasonably or arbitrarily" affects the need for support or the ability to pay support.