The parties, Polish immigrants, divorced in Canada after approximately 25 years of marriage. The wife had a seventh grade education and no special skills or training. During the marriage, in addition to caring for their 3 children and the house, she worked evenings cleaning offices. After the separation, she was awarded custody of the children and received $150 per month spousal and child support and continued to work cleaning offices. The husband remarried in 1984 and continued to pay support to his former wife. She was laid off in 1987 and, as a result of an application to vary, her spousal and child support was increased to $400. She was later able to secure part-time and intermittent cleaning work. In 1989, the husband was granted an order terminating support. The trial judge found that the former wife had had time to become financially independent and that her husband had supported her as long as he could be required to do. The Court of Appeal set aside the judgment and ordered spousal support in the amount of $150 per month for an indefinite period. The matter was appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine whether the wife was entitled to ongoing support for an indefinite period of time or whether spousal support should be terminated. The Supreme Court of Canada determined that spousal support should continue and that termination of spousal support, pursuant to sec. 17 of the Divorce Act, should consider the recipient’s disadvantaged economic status as a result of the marriage breakdown both at the time of breakdown and as it may continue, rather than a simple “sink or swim” policy premised on the wife’s having had sufficient time to become self-sufficient. This decision has provided considerable protection from impoverishment for recently divorced women.
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