Is a Religious Marriage Still Valid Without a License?

A couple was married in an Islamic religious ceremony in about 2002 or 2003. The ceremony was performed before a witness at the wife’s home. Unfortunately, they neglected to get a marriage license and did not register the marriage in Ontario. They were unaware of the legal requirements. They lived together as a married couple until 2010 when they decided to separate.

After separation, the husband applied to the court for relief available to him under Ontario Family Law, including equalization of net family property and reimbursement of an what he argued was overpayment of support paid to the wife.

The court directed the husband to first prove an important threshold legal question: whether the couple was validly married. This issue is a precursor to determining the various relief available to the husband after separation.

The court heard evidence by the parties and pointed out that the term “spouse” for the purposes of the Ontario Family Law Act includes both 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…” In this case, even though the spouses had not obtained a legal marriage license, the religious marriage that they participated in was valid, if they both undertook it in good faith with and intended to be validly married to each other.

Both spouses were eligible to be married when they took part in the religious ceremony, the marriage had been undertaken in good faith. Further, the spouses lived together as a couple and truly believed that their marriage complied with Ontario law. They demonstrated a settled intention to be married, evidenced by joint bank accounts, travelling together, and presented themselves to family, friends and the public as a married couple. The husband had also identified himself as “married” on his income tax return.

Based on this evidence, the court granted summary judgment to the wife, and then addressed the couple’s legal issues (respecting net family property and support).