Was 1000-Guest Religious Wedding a Valid “Marriage” in Ontario?
The issue in this interesting case was whether a form of cultural/religious marriage in which the parties had participated in Ontario was valid, to the extent the parties were legally married and entitled to embark on the equalization process under provincial family law.
In Chhokar v. Bains, the couple went through a Sikh religious marriage, which was performed in 2008 in a Sikh temple located in Ontario. All the traditional steps were taken; over 500 people attended the ceremony and about 1,000 attended the reception. However, no marriage license was ever obtained, and the marriage was never registered under the Ontario Marriage Act as required by provincial law.
After the ceremony, the couple lived separately for a while; they then lived together common law but never obtained a marriage license. The man claimed that this was because the woman wanted to remain “single”, apparently wanted to be free to marry and sponsor her cousin in India as part of a fraudulent immigration scheme to Canada. The woman denied that, claiming to the contrary that it was actually the man who had someone else lined up in India to marry. Each party claimed that it was the other who had resisted or been unwilling to get a marriage license, once they had become aware of the requirement under Ontario law.
The couple separated in 2011.
Based on the assertion that there had been a legal and valid marriage in Ontario, and that she accordingly qualified as a “spouse” under the Family Law Act, the woman applied to the court for an order equalizing the net family property.
The court dismissed the woman’s application. Neither of the parties called family or friends for evidence to support their version of events, so the court had to determine credibility. While concluding that the evidence of both of them was “less than satisfactory”, overall the court believed the man. His version of events evidence was corroborated by some surreptitiously-recorded conversations which – while expressly frowned upon by the court – were nonetheless persuasive.
In short: the court found the religious marriage they participated in did not comply with the legal requirements of a marriage under Ontario law, and was not undertaken in “good faith”, i.e. with the woman having the intention to comply with that law. Given that she was the one bringing the equalization application, the woman’s intention was relevant and she had the burden of proving that she intended to enter into a legally-valid marriage with the man. However, the documentary evidence (such as her tax return, where she listed herself as “single”, and a life insurance application, on which she listed the man as “friend”) supported the idea that the woman herself did not think they were legally married.
As a result, and although the elaborate and expensive Sikh religious marriage that took place did amount to evidence that the couple intended to be married, it fell short of showing that they intended to comply with the Ontario legislation.
As such, the woman was disentitled from claiming equalization of the net family property. However, she was nonetheless entitled to $150 per month in short-term spousal support, taking into account the brevity of the marriage, the husband’s $50,000 income, and her own ability to earn about $20,000 per year as an aesthetician.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Chhokar v Bains, 2012 ONSC 6602 (CanLII) http://canlii.ca/t/fv1m0
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