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Canada - Marriage and Divorce

Each province of Canada is responsible for the regulations which concern marriage and divorce, although these tend to be fairly standard across the country. There may be differences in the requirements on documentation that should be presented when planning the wedding. There are few restrictions on marriage in Canada. Same-sex ceremonies, both religious and civil, are recognised across the country and it is not essential to be a resident of Canada in order to be married there.

A couple must obtain a marriage licence or certificate before they are able to have a marriage ceremony. These are issued by the province that you are in and you need to make an application to the relevant office for this. You cannot obtain a licence in one state and then get married in another. You must marry in the province that has issued the licence.

Age restrictions vary according to the state. In some states you must be 18 and others 19. You may get married from the age of 16 or 17 onwards if you have parental consent. Some provinces may ask for written parental consent anyway if you are under the age of 19. When you make the application for a licence you need to give the date that you plan to get married, proof that you are legally able to marry and proof of ID. You need to complete an application form for a marriage licence and you can download these from the website of the local municipal offices. You may also need to provide details of your immigration status for the records.

Both partners should go to the municipal offices with their documentation before the licence can be issued, although the states of New Brunswick, British Columbia, Labrador and Newfoundland will allow just one person to go. A fee is payable for the licence and you should be aware that these have a time limit on them. Some states issue them for 30 days and others for 3 months.

There are some instances – if the couple are having only a religious ceremony – where a licence is not necessary and they can simply publish the banns. Your minister will be able to advise if this applies to you. When a licence is issued you may have a short wait. Some states allow a ceremony immediately after the licence is issued although in Nova Scotia there is a waiting period of 5 days but you need to wait 20 days in Quebec.

All ceremonies must be carried out by an authorised person, either a civil official or a religious minister, and must be witnessed by a minimum of 2 people. You may be required to pay a fee for the services of the person conducting the ceremony and this varies according to the type of ceremony you are having and the province that you are in.

After the completion of the ceremony you will be given a Statement of Marriage or a Record of Solemnisation of Marriage. This is signed by the couple, the person conducting the ceremony and the witnesses. This is not the same as the certificate, which must be applied for. The usual practice is for the marriage official to complete the form and send it to the Department of Vital Statistics for the certificate to be issued, but if they do not then you are easily able to complete it yourself.

When you marry in Canada you should note that there is no legal requirement to change your name.

When you want to get a divorce you need to file for this in the province that you live in. You must have a certain amount of documentation such as your original marriage certificate. If there have been court documents issued such as separation papers and any agreements regarding children and property then these must also be submitted. In order to begin divorce proceedings in any province you must have been living there for a 12 month period immediately prior to filing the papers. You can still file if your spouse is now living in another province.

When divorce papers are filed you must pay fees to the courts and these vary according to the province. The minimum amount of time for a divorce to happen is 90 days. You can only file for divorce on the grounds of marriage breakdown and this may be for one of three reasons. The first is separation of a minimum of one year and no-one needs to be considered at fault for this. The second is adultery and the third is cruelty, for which there is no minimum waiting period. It is not essential that both parties agree to the divorce.

The courts will deal with issues such as child support and custody as well as division of property but they will also ask you to consider if reconciliation is possible. A couple can try for a reconciliation during their separation period without it having any affect on their one-year waiting period if the attempt at reconciliation lasts 90 days or less.

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