If a Religious Wedding Has 1,000 Guests But No License, Is it Valid?

The central issue in this case was whether a religious marriage conducted in Ontario was valid, and whether the spouses were legally married and entitled to equalize property under provincial Family Law.

In Chhokar v. Bains, the parties took part in a religious marriage ceremony. It was performed in 2008 in a Sikh temple located in Ontario, and all of the traditional steps in a Sikh ceremony were taken. Over 500 people attended the ceremony and about 1,000 attended the reception. No marriage license used, and the marriage was not registered under the Ontario Marriage Act.

Following the wedding, the couple lived apart for a while; and then lived together as a common law couple but still never obtained a marriage license. The husband stated that this was because the wife wanted to remain “single,” because she wanted to remain available to marry for the purpose of sponsoring her cousin in India as part of a fraudulent immigration scheme to Canada. The woman stated the opposite, and that it was the man who wanted to remain single to marry another woman from India. Both claimed that it was the other spouse who not wanted to get a marriage license, once they had become aware of the requirement under Ontario law.

They separated in 2011.

The woman applied to the court for equalization of the net family property based on the presumption that the parties had a legal and valid marriage in Ontario.

Her application was dismissed. Neither party called any witnesses (family or friends) for evidence to support their stories. The court held that their evidence was “less than satisfactory,” but the court believed the man overall. His version of events was supported by some recorded conversations that – and while the court dislikes recordings – were nonetheless persuasive. The court ultimately held that the religious marriage they took part in was not in line with the legal requirements of a marriage under Ontario law, and was not undertaken in “good faith”. Since the woman was the one before the court with an application, her intention was relevant and she had the burden of proving that she intended to enter into a legally valid marriage at the time of the ceremony. The evidence, including her tax return in which she identified herself as single, and her life insurance application in which she listed the man as her “friend” did not support her story.

The court held that she was not permitted to claim equalization of the net family property. She was entitled to short term spousal support, in the amount of $150 per month.