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Bigamy

married couple holding hands

Bigamy

In a Blog a few months ago we chronicled the legal woes of a much-married man named Errol.

It seems Errol was quite good at getting married – he had undergone three successive marriage ceremonies with three different women – but he was not-so-good at first making sure he was legally divorced before walking down the aisle each time.  This became an issue when some of his many wives came after him for spousal support under Ontario family law, and it meant that the court had to untangle the legal effect of his various marriages and the impact of each on the successive one, to determine whether they were valid, invalid, or subject to being annulled (as the case may be).

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In the course of sorting out Error’s matrimonial predicament, one of the side-issues that came up in the court’s discussion was whether he might have committed bigamy, which is actually a criminal offence under s. 290(1) of the Canadian Criminal Code.

Under the wording of that provision, a conviction for bigamy can carry a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment, and occurs any time:

  • A married person goes through a form of marriage with another person;
  • Any person, knowing that another person is married, goes through a form of marriage in Canada with that person;
  • Any person goes through a form of marriage with more than one person on the same day or simultaneously.

(And note that these situations must occur in Canada; however a person can also be covered by the bigamy definition if he or she is a Canadian citizen and resident in Canada, but leaves with the intent to engage in the prohibited conduct and carries out the intent to do so).

Arguably, Errol was in jeopardy of being found guilty of bigamy if it was found that he was already married, but then got married again without ending his first (or second) marriage in the proper legal manner (which might be divorce or an annulment, depending on the circumstances).  Likewise, if any of the Errol’s wives married him knowing that he was already married to someone else, they might be guilty of the crime of bigamy as well.

All of this was potentially pertinent to Errol’s many matrimonial misadventures, since the validity of his latest marriage for Family Law purposes was partly contingent on whether he was already married to someone else at the time of the ceremony.  The possibly that Errol knowingly committed bigamy was part of the larger picture that the court considered.

Indeed, on the Family Law aspect the court readily found that Errol had been less-than-forthright about his matrimonial history, not only to his many wives but also to the court itself.  The court wrote:

Findings of bad faith

 Mr. Lowe was not forthcoming in his testimony. The court therefore found it challenging to acquire thorough and complete evidence from him. He omitted information about his first marriage and divorce from his initial testimony. That history only became apparent on further questioning by the court based on the documentary evidence.

The court notes that Mr. Lowe acknowledged he was aware that he was not in compliance with Canadian law when entering into both his second and third marriages. This constitutes bad faith by the definitions in [Canadian family law]. I find, however, that his third wife, Ms. A.A. was not aware of any lack of compliance with the law by Mr. Lowe. She entered into the marriage in good faith, believing that the marriage was properly constituted.

As such, that third wife’s good-faith marriage to Errol was eligible to end in divorce (and that his marriage to the second wife was void from the outset).   The court did not provide an opinion in whether Errol was a bigamist – since that is a separate determination for the criminal courts – but it would not be a surprise if Errol found himself before those courts soon enough.

For the full text of the decision, see:

Lowe v. A.A., 2018 ONSC 3509 (CanLII)

At Russell Alexander, Family Lawyers our focus is exclusively family law, offering pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family related issues including: custody and access, separation agreements, child and spousal support, division of family property, paternity disputes, and enforcement of court orders.  For more information, visit us at RussellAlexander.com

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