Si vous parlez français
Will spousal support affect my social assistance?

In Ontario, social assistance, sometimes called welfare, includes Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

The law says that people on social assistance must seek out all available sources of income, including spousal support and child support.

If you're on social assistance you must try to get spousal support from your partner. If you don't make reasonable efforts to get spousal support from your partner, you may get less assistance or none at all.

There are family support workers who help people on social assistance get spousal support. The family support worker can help you work out a spousal support agreement if your partner is willing to co-operate. If not, they can help you apply to court for a court order.

Show all
Click to expand each step for details
Next Steps: 

Try to get spousal support from your partner

The law says that people on social assistance must seek out all other sources of income. This includes spousal support and child support.

Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) may ask you to do some or all of these things:

There are family support workers who help people on social assistance get spousal support. The family support worker can help you work out a spousal support agreement if your partner is willing to co-operate. If not, they can help you apply to court for a court order.

You should get legal advice before signing any agreement worked out on your behalf. You can talk to a lawyer who can:

  • Help you understand what claims you might be able to make after you separate or divorce.
  • Help you understand your rights and responsibilities.
  • Tell you if your agreement matches what a judge might order.
  • Tell you the rules you must follow to make your agreement binding and enforceable under the law. This means your agreement is made in a way that allows the court to order you or your partner to do what the agreement says, if either of you stop following it.

If you can't afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

You may need

Show you can't get spousal support from your partner

You may not have to keep trying to get spousal support from your partner if you can show a good reason why it is not possible. For example:

  • You have medical problems that prevent you from taking your partner to court. You may need a letter from your doctor to prove this.
  • Your partner has a history of violence towards you or your child. You may need a police report or a letter from a doctor or counsellor to prove this.
  • Your partner has no job and can't pay. You may need their income tax return or notice of assessment to prove this.
  • Your partner is in jail. You may need a court order or sentencing report to prove this.
  • Your partner is in another country where an Ontario support order can't be enforced.
  • Your partner can't be found and hasn't had contact with you for some time.

If you have any information that could help find your partner, you must give it to Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

For example, you might have your partner's Social Insurance Number or employer's name and address. If you don't give this information, you may get less assistance or none at all.

OW or ODSP will keep reviewing your situation to see if you might be able to get support from your partner. There is usually another review in 3 to 12 months. If nothing changes they might set another review date. They can decide no further review is needed if:

  • Your partner can't be found after a reasonably long search.
  • There is an ongoing risk of violence.

If OW or ODSP keeps asking you to try to get support from your partner, but you don't think you should have to, talk to a lawyer. If you can't afford to hire a lawyer, you may be able to find legal help in other places.

You may need

Tell social services if your partner misses payments

If you're collecting both spousal support and social assistance, usually the spousal support payments go straight to you. You have to report them to Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). They deduct the same amount from your monthly social assistance cheque.

If your partner misses a payment, tell OW or ODSP right away. You may be able to assign your support payments to OW or ODSP. This means the support payments your partner makes go directly to OW or ODSP. You get the full amount of social assistance even when your partner misses payments. Your family support worker can complete an assignment form with you.

OW or ODSP may ask you to co-operate with the Family Responsibility Office (FRO). If you don't, you may get less assistance or none at all.

The FRO is a government agency that enforces child support and spousal support payments. They collect support from the person who has to pay support, keep a record of the amounts paid, and pay that amount to the person who has to get support.

If your partner refuses to pay support, the FRO can take action to enforce support. For example, the FRO can take money from their bank account, suspend their driver's licence, or start a court case that can put them in jail.

You may need

Take action if you lose social assistance

Ontario Works (OW) or the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) may decide to refuse, reduce, or cut off your social assistance for a number of reasons. For example, if you did not make reasonable efforts to get support from your partner, or you did not cooperate with the Family Responsibility Office.

If this happens:

  1. Ask for the decision in writing right away. You will be given a letter about the decision called a Notice of Decision. It tells you:
    • how the decision affects your assistance
    • when the decision takes effect
    • the reasons for the decision
    • that you have the right to appeal the decision if you disagree with it
    • how to appeal and how much time you have to do it
  2. Write and ask for an internal review. You can fill out an Internal Request Review form. Or you can write your own letter that says you're asking for an internal review. The letter should include:
    • the date on the Notice of Decision
    • the date you received the Notice of Decision
    • your 9-digit member identification number (on the Notice of Decision)

    It can be sometimes be helpful to give the reasons you disagree with the decision. You can also include any new information or documents that support your request. ​

  3. Sign and date your letter.
  4. Make a copy of your letter for yourself.
  5. Deliver, fax, or mail your letter within 30 days of the date you received the Notice of Decision. If you're late, you might be able to get an extension of time. 

The internal review decision is supposed to be made within 30 days from the date your request is received.

You can appeal to the Social Benefits Tribunal after you have made a request for an internal review. You do not have to wait for the internal review decision.

The Tribunal is separate from OW and ODSP. It has the power to make a different decision.

To appeal to the Tribunal:

  1. Fill out the appeal form.
  2. Attach copies of any decision letters you received and a copy of your request for an internal review.
  3. Make a copy for yourself.
  4. Deliver, fax, or mail the form within 30 days of the date you received the internal review decision. If you do not get a decision within 30 days of the date you requested an internal review, you have 60 days from the date of your request to file your appeal. 

The Tribunal sends you a Notice of Hearing ​within 60 days of receiving your Appeal Form. It tells you the date, time, and place of the appeal hearing.

It's a good idea to contact your local community legal clinic for information and advice.

You may need
Reviewed: 
September, 2015