Basic facts about marriage and divorce

People must be at least 18 years of age to marry in Ontario. People as young as 16 years of age can marry if they have the written consent of both sets of parents. People of the same sex can marry.

Generally, marriages from outside Canada are recognized as legally valid here if they were performed according to the laws of the country where they took place.

Polygamy – having more than one spouse at the same time – is not legal. It is also not legal for people who are very closely related to marry.  A marriage is not legally binding if either person is unable to understand the nature of marriage or its obligations or was forced into it.

Despite the fact that polygamy is illegal in Canada, there is some protection for spouses in polygamous marriages under Ontario family law if the polygamous marriage was legal in the country in which it was performed. Women in such situations are able to seek spousal support and/or orders regarding the division of property.

Both men and women can apply for a divorce on the basis of a breakdown of the marriage. This can be established in any of three ways:

  • the spouses have been living separate and apart for at least one year
  • one spouse has committed adultery
  • one spouse has treated the applicant with physical or mental cruelty such that they can no longer live together

Most cases rely on the first of these conditions. It is possible to meet this condition while still living under the same roof as long as the people are no longer living as a couple.

A foreign divorce will be recognized in Canada as long as either spouse lived in the place that granted the divorce for at least one year preceding the application.  Even if this minimum residency period is not met, the divorce may still be recognized if the applicant can establish a “real and substantial connection” with the place that granted the divorce.

There are many religions that do not recognize civil divorce and do not allow separated and/or divorced spouses to participate in religious practices, including remarriage within the religion. While Canadian family law is not able to override these religious barriers, people can remarry civilly once they have obtained a civil divorce, regardless of the rules of the religion.

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