A recent Ontario case casts light on what happens when cultural marriage traditions must be scrutinized under a Canadian legal microscope. The court introduced the facts this way:
This application involves the fall-out from an arranged marriage that did not last. There were no children of this marriage.
In 2012, … [the wife] was a 22-year-old Pakistani woman who studied in the Master of Business Administration program at .. University.
[The husband] was then a 28-year-old Canadian man whose parents had emigrated from Pakistan a generation earlier. [The husband] had graduated from secondary school in Toronto and was pursuing a career in the financial sector. [The husband’s] mother set upon arranging for [the husband] to marry a woman from Pakistan.
[The husband’s] mother contacted [the wife’s] mother and they arranged for [the wife] to marry [the husband]. … The couple met for the first time in the days before the wedding and were married on July 6, 2012. … After the wedding, [the wife] left her home to reside with [the husband] for about a week in a relative’s house. [The wife] testified that she and [the husband] consummated their marriage. [The husband] testified that they did not.
[The wife] recalled that she and her new husband happily celebrated with family members in the week after their wedding. [The husband] testified that he was immediately overcome with remorse. He had gone along with the arranged marriage to please his traditional parents, and to maintain cultural values, but was saddened to be married to someone he did not know and with whom he had little in common.
According to the reluctant husband’s evidence, and unbeknownst to the wife, he decided to divorce her by invoking a traditional religious divorce ceremony – which is recognized under Canadian law when validly performed. The court continues the narrative:
[The husband] testified that late in the evening of May 28, 2013, he spoke with his mother and told her that he had decided that he could no longer remain married to [the wife]. He felt anxious and ill and wanted to terminate the relationship. [The husband] testified that he understood from his mother that as his marriage had not been consummated, it could be annulled if he convened a meeting with [the wife], her family, and a village elder, and spoke the word “Talaq” to [the wife] three times.
This conversation took place in Pakistan, where the husband, wife, and extended family members were all assembled to celebrate the wedding of another family member. The husband testified to the court that he performed this religious ritual before the wife and other required parties the next day, on May 29, 2013.
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However, the wife’s version of the day’s events diverged significantly: She claimed they simply spent the day happily shopping and dining together. As the court explained:[The wife] testified that [the husband] is “totally lying”. She states that there simply was no such ceremony. [The wife] is adamant that [the husband] did not attempt to divorce her in 2013 and that he did not even tell her that he wanted out of the marriage.
Thus the question of whether the couple were divorced under both Pakistani and Canadian came down to a matter of credibility. The husband bore the onus of determining that a religious divorce had taken place on that day in May, as he claimed.
The court looked at the overall evidence presented, and disbelieved the husband outright.
For one thing, the subsequent email correspondence between him and the wife (who had remained in Pakistan) consisted of “the usual dialogue between a couple planning to get together after a time apart.” The husband had taken no steps with the civil authorities in Pakistan to legalize the alleged divorce, and did not attend the country’s central registry to change his marital status. Nor did he consult with a local lawyer to ensure the ceremonial steps he took complied with Pakistani divorce requirements.
Even looking at matters from the wife’s side, her conduct after May 29, 2013 was not consistent with someone who had been told her husband was leaving the marriage. Instead, she continued to prepare to reunite with her new husband in Canada, and to establish a married life with him.
Having ruled that the husband had not achieved a religion-based divorce as claimed, the couple remained legal spouses at the time of the hearing. In a 100-paragraph judgment, the court went on to deal with numerous issues relating to property division and support, pending their upcoming divorce under Canadian law.
For the full text of the decision, see: