Before Asking for a Divorce … Make Sure You’re Married!

Understanding the Law

Marriage grants each spouse important rights in Quebec should the time come to divorce. This applies whether the wedding took place in Quebec or elsewhere. However, certain conditions must be met for the marriage to be legally valid. Here’s a look at two situations in which overseas weddings led to complications years later. 

Important: The rights of common-law couples are very different from those of married couples. For more information on the rights of couples in a common-law relationship (also known as a “de facto relationship”), see our Web Guide Common-Law Relationships: Everything You Need to Know

A beautiful ceremony is not enough

Fine clothes, a beautiful ceremony, and great photos do not necessarily make for a legal marriage. A woman who thought she had been married in Mexico in 2007 learned this to her dismay. 

Everything had been carefully planned. An all-inclusive wedding package was purchased online. The officiant specialized in symbolic wedding ceremonies.  

Several years later, the wife decided to get a divorce, and the husband contested, saying that, in his view, they had never been married. His argument was supported by five notarial deeds, including home sales and a will, all of which described them as single and did not mention any marriage. So, despite the photos and wonderful memories of the moment, the “husband” and “wife” were still considered single in the eyes of the law.  

Without a legal marriage certificate, or other evidence to prove the wedding was legally valid in Mexico, the Divorce Act did not apply. A court will always check for this in deciding whether to admit a divorce application. The judge also found that it was “unlikely or even impossible” to believe the parties were married outside Quebec, given that the notarial documents did not mention any marriage. The woman’s attempt to prove a marriage — without a legal marriage certificate — led the court to sanction her for abuse of process. 

You can read the judgment here (French only). 

Nor is a religious ceremony sufficient

In another case, a couple residing in Quebec had a marriage ceremony in Senegal in 2018. No problem so far; a marriage that is celebrated in compliance with the laws of the country where it takes place, and complies with the conditions of substance of Quebec law (see box below), will be considered legally valid here. However, a religious marriage is not considered legally valid in some countries. 

Did you know? When a marriage takes place outside Quebec, it is automatically “recognized” here, provided it is celebrated in compliance with the laws of the country where it takes place and complies with the conditions of substance of Quebec and Canadian law. These conditions include the spouses’ ages, consent to marry, family relationship (if any), and the requirement not to be married to someone else.

It is also recommended to obtain a copy of the marriage certificate. This makes it easier to prove the marriage for certain legal procedures, including divorce — should that ever happen.

The couple, who were in Quebec at the time of the marriage, had a proxy marriage, giving their vows by telephone. A few years later, the woman asked for a divorce, and the man argued that they were never married. 

As in the previous case, there was never a legal marriage certificate issued in Senegal. Only a religious certificate was issued. However, in Senegal, a marriage must be recognized by the government to be valid. Since the marriage was not recognized as valid in Senegal, it was not considered valid in Quebec either.  

You can read the judgment here (French only).

The moral of the two stories? If you’re getting married, make sure that obtaining a legal marriage certificate is on your checklist, along with flowers, music, and everything else that will make your day magical. This document could help you prove the marriage years later and save you lots trouble!