Court Cases & Orders

Need for Ontario Marriage License Overlooked – Religious Marriage Still Valid

Need for Ontario Marriage License Overlooked – Religious Marriage Still Valid

In this case, the couple had been married in an Islamic religious ceremony in either 2002 or 2003, performed before a witness in the wife’s apartment. However, they neglected to obtain an Ontario marriage license and never registered the marriage, since they were unaware of the legal requirements in this regard. Still, they lived together as husband and wife until 2010, when they decided to separate.

At that point, the husband applied to the court for various relief that was available to him under provincial family law. This included equalization of net family property, as well as reimbursement of an alleged overpayment of support that he had paid to the wife.

However, when the matter came before the court, the husband was directed to take steps to first prove an important threshold legal question: whether the couple was validly married at all. This would determine whether they were “spouses” under Ontario law; which in turn was a precursor to determining the various financial and other ramifications of separation.

After hearing the parties’ respective evidence, the court started by pointing out that the term “spouse” for the purposes of the Ontario Family Law Act includes not only couples who are “married to each other,” but also those who have “together entered into a marriage that is voidable or void, in good faith…”. Here, even though the couple had not obtained a marriage license, the form of religious marriage that they had participated in was valid as long as they both undertook it in good faith with the intention of becoming validly married to each other under provincial law.

In this case, both parties had been eligible to be married at the time of the religious ceremony, the marriage had been solemnized in good faith, and they lived together a as a couple afterwards, believing that their marriage complied with the relevant law. During this time they also had joint bank accounts, travelled together, and for all intents and purposes presented themselves to family, friends and the public as a couple. The husband had also listed himself as “married” on his income tax return.

As such, on the narrow issue of whether the parties were married, the court granted summary judgment to the wife, which paved the way for the couple’s subsequent legal issues (respecting net family property and support) to be addressed.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Isse v. Said, 2012 ONSC 1829

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