In my job as a Toronto family lawyer, I have drafted numerous foreign divorce opinion letters – some more complex than others. In my previous foreign divorce opinion letters blog, I discussed the legal tests and requirement for remarriage in Canada. This post expands on the policy reasons and additional legal consequences of (non) recognizing foreign divorces in Canada. Why is the recognition of foreign divorces in Canada relevant and important? Most people will only worry about this issue if they wish to re-marry in Canada and need to obtain a foreign divorce opinion letter from a local family lawyer. The recognition of foreign divorces in Canada, however, extends far beyond a person’s eligibility for a marriage license.
Marriage and divorce carry specific rights, obligations and entitlements. For example, Canadian courts cannot grant a Canadian divorce if Canada had already recognized a foreign divorce. A foreign and recognized divorce has the same status on the parties as a Canadian divorce. Consequently, if the divorce is not recognized, a spouse may be able to divorce in Canada and make property and support claims here. Depending on the circumstances of each party and the family law regimes in their country of origin, this could be significant.
Furthermore, a widow(er) may not be automatically entitled to pensions and other succession interests if a foreign divorce is recognized in Canada. The estate law issues, including the interpretation and validity of wills are affected by (non)recognition of foreign divorces, including the effect on financial provisions for dependents (i.e. former spouse).
In my practice as a Toronto immigration lawyer, specializing in spousal sponsorships to Canada, I have come across cases where the existence of a non-recognized foreign divorce could have undermined the attempt by a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident to sponsor his or her foreign spouse. If one of the parties remains married in the eyes of Canadian law, the parties are unable to re-marry, or if they re-marry outside Canada, their new marriage will likely be considered invalid ab initio for immigration purposes. The question of bigamy also arises in this context and should not be taken lightly. Lastly, the recognition of a foreign divorce can have significant tax implication in Canada, and it may affect the parties’ entitlement to state and welfare benefits.
The laws in this area can be quite complex and technical. If you have been divorced outside of Canada and either wish to re-marry and obtain a foreign divorce opinion letter or if you wish to ensure that your divorce is recognized for other purposes, such as immigration, you should contact a knowledgable family lawyer in Toronto.