A Spouse with a Fake Identity and an Uncertain Marriage in Florida – What does it Mean in Ontario?

This case took place in Ontario, and had extremely unusual facts. In order to resolve the couple’s issues on separation, the court had to first determine if they were legally married. A further twist was that the husband had been living under a fake identity, and it was uncertain if the couple had been married in Florida which could affect the legality of their union Ontario.

The couple started living together in Ottawa in 1993. They lived in Florida for a short period of time, but then returned to Ontario, where they lived together until 2009 when they separated.

The couple had two children, one of which was disabled and required a high level of care. The husband had not seen the children since 2009 when they separated, and – other than $250 – had not paid spousal or child support. The woman had been receiving government benefits.

The wife brought an application an order requiring the man to pay support, but it included a request a decision that “John Muir” (the name of the man she married) and “David Waghorn” (the man who appeared in court in response to the support application) were the same person. She needed the court to rule on whether she and the man were legally married in Ontario before determining the balance of the issues.

The court considered the man’s true identity, and whether “David Waghorn” had been living under the name of “John  Muir.”

The wife testified she and her husband began their relationship and moved in together in 1993. She further stated that they became engaged in 1994 and were to get married in Ottawa in 1995.

Both parties testified that they knew a man from Ottawa who was an American citizen from Florida and lived in Ottawa at the time. Both the husband and wife agreed that they saw this man socially in Ottawa in 1993. The wife testified that this male acquaintance was one John Muir. The husband argued that the name of this individual was Moir, not Muir.

The wife said that the parties decided to live in Florida for a while and obtained identification documents from Mr. Muir in order that the husband could work while they were in Florida. She further stated the documents the husband Mr. Muir received and used in Florida included:

  • His social security card,
  • An Hawaiian statement of live birth, and
  • A Florida voter identification

The above documents identified John Sinclair Muir, but none included a photograph.

The husband denied that he identified himself as or used the name John Muir at any time. He testified that the wife was married to John Muir and that Mr. Muir told the parties at one point in the past that he had lost his wallet. This was the Respondent’s speculation as to how the above documents came into the possession of  the  wife.  The  wife disputed this.

She also produced employment records in the name of “John Muir,” as well as other correspondence. The husband stated that he could produce the “real” John Muir as a witness in the trial, but then did not at the last minute.

The court looked at all the evidence and concluded that the husband’s testimony was false and it believed the wife’s version of events as to the man’s identity.

The court then turned their mind to whether the couple had been legally married in Florida. At first, the woman agreed that she knew the man’s use of “John Muir” to Florida marriage officials was false. She also gave evidence including the Florida marriage licence, a wedding band and the man’s 2006 and 2007 tax returns, which indicated his status as “married.” The husband had also signed as consenting spouse on their matrimonial home mortgage documents. The court held that the couple had indeed been married to each other under the laws of Florida. This led to the next issue: was the couple legally married in Ontario, considering the fact that they had lied about the husband’s name to the marriage officials?

The couple had clearly meant to marry one another when they obtained a Florida marriage license, and participated in a marriage ceremony. They had not intended to limit their marriage to Florida, and they were both legally in a position to marry one another at the time of the ceremony. The marriage was found to be valid, and this was not diminished by the misrepresentation as  to  John  Muir’s real identity. Since the Court concluded that the parties were  married  under Ontario law, they were able to go on to determine other issues such as custody,  access  and  child  support issues.