The Times They Are A Changin – Things For Dentists To Consider When Bringing A Motion to Change Spousal Support

The case of Ravka v. Ravka, 2003 CanLII 2341 (ONSC) provides some interesting insights in regards to the professional challenges facing dentists in today’s marketplace and the legal framework regarding spousal support obligations following the breakdown of a relationship wherein one of the parties’ is a dentist.

In Ravka, the Applicant dentist brought a Motion to Change seeking an order to reduce the quantum of his spousal support obligation to the Respondent Wife pursuant to the parties’ Separation Agreement.

When determining the outcome of a motion to change spousal support for married couples, a Court must determine firstly whether there has there been a material change in circumstances and secondly, in consideration of the objectives of spousal support, what variations, if any, should be made to the Separation Agreement.

1. Has There Been A Material Change in Circumstances

The Applicant dentist sought a variation of the support agreement because his income dropped significantly due to the decline of his dental practice.

Some of the reasons, according to the Applicant dentist, were that the demographics of his community changed, insurance coverage declined so patients attended office less frequently and improved dental hygiene meant fewer trips to his office. While the Applicant dentist wished to improve his client base, his practice was affected due to these many factors beyond his control.

Based on the Applicant Dentist’s evidence, the Court was satisfied that there was a material change in circumstances since the signing of the Separation Agreement as the Applicant’s ability to pay support was markedly reduced.

Further, considering the recent downturn of the economy and an aging population, it would not be surprising if similar circumstances affected numerous dentistry practices in Ontario. As a result, Ravka highlights how the struggling economy and an aging population may have broader implications towards dental practices and fluctuations in income.

2. What Variation, If Any, is Appropriate In The Circumstances

When considering what variations should be made to the quantum of support, the Court explored the objectives of varying a spousal support order as set out in s. 17(7) of the Divorce Act which is as follows:

Objectives of variation order varying spousal support order

(7) A variation order varying a spousal support order should

(a) recognize any economic advantages or disadvantages to the former spouses arising from the marriage or its breakdown;

(b) apportion between the former spouses any financial consequences arising from the care of any child of the marriage over and above any obligation for the support of any child of the marriage;

(c) relieve any economic hardship of the former spouses arising from the breakdown of the marriage; and

(d) in so far as practicable, promote the economic self-sufficiency of each former spouse within a reasonable period of time.

In Ravka, the Court acknowledged and considered that (1) the Respondent Wife was in need of continuing support; (2) she had no realistic expectation of financial support from anyone but the Applicant Dentist; and (3) the Respondent had a severe and debilitating condition that prevented her from working.

In contemplating the foregoing, the Court held that the quantum payable on the Applicant dentist’s current income should utilize the net disposable income for each party. Thus, the Applicant dentist’s support obligation was reduced from $5,922.53 per month to $4,924.00 per month.

While this reduction was significant, the Court took particular consideration of all of the factors relating to the ongoing economic hardship towards a spouse arising from the breakdown of the marriage, particularly one involving parties with significant incomes and severe medical needs.

Nonetheless, perhaps the most important lesson from Ravka is that based on the potentially significant variation, and financial savings, that may result from a varied support order, if a Dentist has a significantly reduced income they may wish to speak to a lawyer to consider bringing a Motion to Change support sooner rather than later.