Divorce can finance spouse’s long-term care

Greg contacted the
following agencies:

“As close to hell as I ever want to get,” is how Greg (not his real name) describes the events leading to his 2015 divorce from his wife of more than 30 years.

Greg’s wife, Connie (not her real name), now deceased, suffered from dementia and required full-time care in a nursing home. Greg learned that fees for that care would take all but about $100 of Connie’s income plus an extra $1,000 per month that he was expected to provide.

“They calculated her fees based on our combined income. That $1,000 amounted to one-third of my income.” he said.

“Well, I couldn’t afford it.”

When his wife went into care he was left with property taxes, insurance, heat and utilities, the same bills that had once been managed with two incomes. Those bills didn’t go away, he said; they were not reduced.

In his search for help, every step of the way he was urged not to divorce his wife, but he became convinced divorce was his only option.

The only solution suggested was that perhaps, if he put forth his case, he might be allowed one month’s respite from paying his wife’s expenses.

He could agree to that, but what about all the other months?

“It was just one month,” he said.

“The thing I was led to believe when Connie went into the (nursing home), her financial contribution would be based on her income. Well, it was based on our income. There was no way I could make anybody in government or the ombudsman or civil service understand that that was doing me in. They just wouldn’t listen.”

Convinced he had no choice, Greg went ahead with the divorce. Once he had the paper work saying he and Connie were divorced, he was no longer responsible for her bills.

Nothing else changed. He continued to visit his wife several times a week. He still gave her flowers and cards for special occasions and for no occasion, and those cards still read, “for my wife.”

There was no change in the actions of the nursing home staff toward him or Connie.

“To be honest, there was no one, to my recollection, who really came to my/our defence regarding the financial situation,” he said.

“There really wasn’t anything anyone could do. The divorce was not a topic of conversation that came up unless I spoke of it first.”

Who pays and how much for nursing home care is legislated provincially, and regulations vary across Canada.

An income-based model is followed in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. This will likely include the income of the client’s spouse or common law partner but not assets, property or life savings. There may be some flexibility, or there may not.

In Saskatchewan, for example, fees are calculated based on joint net income. However, married residents or common-law couples who live in separate dwellings for reasons beyond their control have the option to complete what is known as an Optional Designation Form. It can be found online at bit.ly/2PaFE8I.

With this designation, only the resident’s income, plus any earned interest, is considered in determining the resident’s charge. The spouse or common law partner’s income is not considered.

In Nova Scotia, according to Paying for Long-term Care, a publication of the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, a financial assessment considers the client’s net income as well as the income of a spouse, partner and/or dependent child. Long-term care residents are not expected to pay more than 85 percent of their assessed income toward accommodation charges.

If a client’s spouse remains in the community, he or she will be able to keep 60 percent of joint family income and maintain control over all assets. The minimum a spouse living in the community will retain is $20,500 per year, or an average of $1,708.33 per month. (Statistics Canada defines the low-income measure at $22,133 for a single person.)

More information on what you can expect in your province regarding nursing home fees and payment can be obtained from your provincial health department.

  • Department of Social Services, where he was told he would “just have to change his style of living.”
  • Provincial ombudsman.
  • Local MLA.
  • Provincial social services department.
  • A lawyer, “as we had been told a document entitled A Legal Separation would solve our financial problems.” This document was thrown out by the social services department at the local level, and Greg was told it was “not worth the paper that it is printed on.”

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