Obtaining a Foreign Divorce Opinion Letter in Ontario – Additional Implications of Foreign Divorces

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.

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Immigration to Canada? Hiring a Right Immigration Lawyer Can Make a Difference

You may wish to live, work, or go to school legally in Canada. Perhaps you are trying to reunite with family members, your spouse or a common law partner. Whatever your immigration needs, choosing a right  immigration lawyer is probably one of the most crucial decisions that you can make to maximize the chances of obtaining a visa, permanent resident status or Canadian citizenship.

Invariably, the first question that comes to mind, before you even consider retaining an immigration lawyer for spousal sponsorship, work or visitor visa is: “should I hire an immigration lawyer? Do I actually need one?

There is no legal requirement for you to be represented by counsel in your applications and dealings with the Citizenship and Immigration Canada or Canada Border Services Agency. These government agencies do not offer priority processing or other automatic preferential treatment for clients who are represented by immigration lawyers or licensed consultants. Nevertheless, as this article will show, the benefits of retaining a knowledgeable immigration lawyer to handle your immigration matters are real and quantifiable.

You probably heard rumors and suggestions from well-intentioned friends and family members that sound something like this: “You don’t need an immigration lawyer! Why waste money? Family sponsorships are easy and fast. My friend Mary just got her permanent residence and she did everything by herself. You just need to ask people who have been through the process for help and guidance, and if you must get help, go to an immigration consultant.”

Your best bet would be to thank your friend for their help and concern and start lawyer shopping – and here are the reasons why. First, you are not privy to all the details of Mary’s case that make it different than yours. Each person’s circumstances are unique and raise unique evidentiary and legal question. If you wish your application to succeed in a reasonable time and with relative ease, you must reject that temptingly simplistic but faulty cookie-cutter approach to immigration law. Second, the immigration laws and regulations that Mary faced have likely changed. Immigration law is a complex and evolving area of law, marked by rapidly changing policies, guidelines and case-law.  Third, immigration process, be it spousal sponsorship or one of the economic migration classes, can be confusing and the paperwork overwhelming. If you are juggling the responsibilities of full-time work , social and family obligations, preparing the forms and pulling together the required evidence can turn into a harrowing experience. Remember also that in many cases, the submission of your application for processing by CIC is not the end of your hard work. It is merely the beginning. CIC may request additional evidence, legal submissions, clarifications and request in-person interviews. Without a lawyer to act as a filter, your ongoing communications with immigration officials may needlessly delay the process and inadvertently reveal information that appears harmless but which may jeopardize the final outcome of your application.

So where do we stand right now? You don’t know where to start. You feel confused. Your paperwork looks simple but you are not sure… You are planning to marry or have already married a non-Canadian and you are living in Canada. Maybe you are in a common-law relationship and your partner lives with you in Canada. You want to file a sponsored application for permanent residence so that you can build a life together. You read through the guides and the forms. Some of the questions seem tricky. You want to avoid hidden traps. You fear making a mistake that kills your chances of being together. Preparing papers by yourself or giving up does just not feel right. You know that mistakes and inconsistencies can lead to delays, give rise to misrepresentation and even cast doubt on the veracity of your marriage or common law relationship. These weighty considerations and your future happiness should not be left to chance.

Choosing a Right Immigration Lawyer FOR YOU

You have decided that your future is worth investing in and that you would like to be represented by an immigration lawyer – a wise decision!

While most immigration lawyers in Toronto and Canada are competent and dedicated professionals, you need to find a lawyer that you feel comfortable with – someone who is not just right, but who is right for YOU.  Follow your intuition and consider the following suggestions when choosing the right immigration lawyer for you.

Here are some ways the right Canadian immigration lawyer can change the way you experience the immigration process – and improve your chances of winning.

1. Immigration Law Is Complex and Unpredictable

Immigration laws, rules and procedures can change overnight, usually with little or no warning. A court decision or a departmental policy change on a seemingly small point of law can change or significantly affect the outcome of your case. Some changes can have a retroactive effect. Remember Mary and her application? It is precisely because of this fluid nature of immigration regulations that her example will likely not help you today.

As you can imagine, keeping track of constant changes and new developments is time consuming. That is why you should look for an immigration lawyer that specialized in your particular type of matter. While most of us can do anything in the area of immigration law, the unpublicized truth is that each of us has our preferences and strengths. For example, I specialize in family and spousal sponsorships and certain economic class applications, such as Canadian Experience Class and Federal Skilled Workers. Some of my colleagues focus heavily on immigration appeals, while others practice overwhelmingly in the area of refugee protection.

2. Define the Role of Your Immigration Lawyer

Each lawyer should clearly define his or her duties and your responsibilities as a client in a written and signed Retainer Agreement. If a lawyer does not provide you with this document, keep looking. Some of the qualities that you should be looking for in an immigration attorney include:

  • Guiding you competently through the complex immigration law system
  • Evaluating your qualifications and eligibility at each stage of the process
  • Exploring the full range of legal and practical immigration options and considerations which may be open to you
  • Being honest and firm with you, especially if serious issues arise in your application. Your lawyers should assess problems and try to develop an alternative plan for you to achieve your goals – if any.
  • Ensuring that your representations are truthful, relevant and that your actions today do not cut off avenues for future success, and refusing to take short cuts which may hurt your case
  • Understanding the immigration system inside and out, and know how to work with immigration officials to your benefit

3. Whether you are rick or poor, male or female, straight or gay Immigration Lawyer Should See You as a Person, Not a File Number

Yes, law is a business, but it as also much more than that. A successful and effective immigration lawyer will be able to empathize with you and devote all the time that your file deserves.  As a general rule and unless you are dealing with high level litigation, it may be wise to choose small and medium size law firms or sole practitioners over large immigration law firms, which are more likely to delegate the bulk of the work to their assistants. After all, you are paying for lawyer’s expertise and that is what should get. Each application for family sponsorship, permanent residence, citizenship, or a visa is unique and has at its core a person seeking to better his or her life. Your immigration lawyer cannot lose focus of the main goal of your application, which is to bring your together or keep it from being torn apart. Few immigration clients bring perfect documents; sufficient evidence and almost none have simple histories. A good lawyer will work with you to fill these gaps and present the best possible application to CIC for processing.

4. Immigration Law Is About Advocacy and Commitment

No immigration lawyer can guarantee the outcome of a particular case, but through our attention to detail and strategic approach, we can drastically improve your chances of a positive outcome.

THAT’S WHERE I COME IN

Mu name is Ivan Steele, and I am an immigration lawyer in Toronto, Canada. Throughout my career, I have specialized in family and immigration law – two areas that deal heavily with personal connections and high stake family dynamics. While I cannot guarantee the outcome of your immigration matter, I can offer you excellence in advocacy, my knowledge, my commitment and my background as a psychotherapist.

Whether you are gay or straight and trying to bring a spouse or a common-law partner to Canada of otherwise seeking permanent residence, I am here to explore your immigration options, counsel you and advocate tenaciously on your behalf. My assistant, Rolando, and I will sit down with you, go through your personal history,  identify all possible solution and devise a plan to  work towards obtaining the results you want.

As a gay immigration lawyer in Toronto, I am uniquely equipped to address the concerns and unique challenges of same-sex immigration to Canada.  At Ivan Steele Law Office, you will find a safe haven and the help of passionate and compassionate immigration professionals.

This legal information brought to you by Ivan Steele Law Office

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and divorce lawyer

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and divorce lawyer

Latest Immigration Development – CIC closes Buffalo and Detroit Consulates

Immigration lawyers in Canada and the applicants alike are working hard to keep track of the rapid changes and reorganization of the immigration laws, rules and regulations in 2012 and 2013.

First, there was Buffalo. Now Detroit too. Due to major changes in Canadian immigration rules and policies, the Canadian government has closed the Consulate in Buffalo, New York and Detroit is the next to go. North America is not the only region that has seen a rapid consolidation of visa posts. In Europe, Vienna has taken on processing responsibilities from several Canadian embassies in the region, most prominently from Belgrade, Serbia.

Foreign students and temporary workers in Canada can now extend / renew their status inside Canada, without having to travel to a visa post in the U.S. Visa services, including permanent residence applications have been transferred to the New York City and Los Angeles Visa Offices. Applications and passports received in Detroit after February 15th, 2013 are now automatically forwarded to the Case Processing Pilot Office in Ottawa, which is functioning with surprising efficiency. Stay tuned.

Ivan J. Steele, M.A., J.D., Toronto immigration lawyer

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Ivan Steele, Toronto family and immigration lawyer

Immigration Law and the City of Toronto

It is trite law and common sense that the federal government of Canada has the primary jurisdiction over immigration, which does not leave much “law-making” to the cities and municipalities across Canada. Yet, despite their inability to draft immigration legislation and regulations, the local government across Canada function and struggle at the forefront of most hot button immigration issue. It is our cities that provide countless service that affect the quality of life for most Canadians. It is not surprise then, that cities are being forced to take a position of illegal immigration. After all, estimated 100,000-200,000 of undocumented immigrants live in Toronto alone. This estimate is likely a very conservative one. With the help of human rights activists, immigration lawyer and other fair minded and concerned citizens, Toronto has joined the likes of Chicago, New York City and San Francisco in becoming Canada’s first “sanctuary city” — a place where anyone can can access city services, regardless of immigration status!. While the limitations of Toronto’s move are evident – undocumented migrants cannot access provincial-level services, this decision is a bold move that needs to be celebrated.
This is my position as a Toronto immigration lawyer: affording basic human dignity to the struggling immigrants in search of a better life does not send a message that it is alright to break the law to come to Canada. Rather, it sends a message of compassion, tolerance and sensitivity to the plight of the less fortunate.

Ivan J. Steele, M..A., J.D., Toronto Immigration LawyerIVAN AND ROLANDO 135

Fraudulent Marriages – Intimacy Dance Between Immigration and Family Law

In an attempt to prevent marriage fraud, recent changes to section 4 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations have made it more challenging to establish a bona fides marriage for immigration purposes, by expanding the circumstances in which a person is NOT considered to be a spouse for immigration purposes. Immigration officials now have a much easier time proving a “bad faith” relationship. Instead of having to prove that a romantic relationship is 1) NOT genuine and 2) that it was entered into primarily for the purpose of acquiring status or privilege under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act., under the new test, either of these findings can defeat the Applicant’s claim for immigration status in Canada. This is a significant shift in the burn of proof, which is inconsistent with the family law legislation and jurisprudence governing marriage in Canada.

Canadian jurisprudence does not recognize immigration fraud as a ground for annulment of marriage. As Toronto family lawyers can attest, Courts will generally refuse to grant annulments in situations where one spouse was tricked into marrying a non-Canadian. In a seminal case of Iantsis (Papatheodorou) v. Papatheodorou; 1970 CarswellOnt 154, 3 R.F.L. 158, the Court of Appeal for Ontario refused to interpret liberally the circumstances in which fraud may undermine the validity of a marriage. In this case, the judges found that fraudulent misrepresentation will generally not invalidate a marriage, unless it can be proven that the defrauding party’s actions led to a mistake regarding the nature of the ceremony, or the deception as to the identity of one of the parties. Without examining the wisdom or correctness of the Court’s reasoning in Iantsis, this decision and the jurisprudence that followed are in line with a long standing philosophy in Canadian family law, which recognizes that parties marry for a great many reasons, one of which could be to obtain immigration status. While the family law courts recognize the validity of even fraudulent immigration marriages, the immigration regulations disallow even those marriages where the parties are in otherwise genuine relationship, as long as the marriage was primarily entered into to obtain immigration status.

The confusion that results from differing operations of family and immigration laws and regulations needs to be removed, in the interest of consistency and fair administration of justice. There are two obvious solutions to this legal dissonance. The first approach is restrictive and it involves keeping the current, onerous legal test for immigration purposes, and synchronizing family law legislation with it. Under this scenario, it would be more difficult to prove a good faith marriage for immigration purposes, but it would be easier to get an annulment of a fraudulent marriage. The second approach would involve reverting to the old, more relaxed legal test for immigration purposes, and also relaxing the family law requirements for annulment of fraudulent marriages. Namely, it would be easier to establish a good faith relationship for immigration purposes, and easier to dissolve a potentially fraudulent marriage.

In situations where one spouse is duped into a fraudulent immigration marriage, I favour the first scenario. Stricter immigration test is appropriate, as long as there is a clear recognition that in genuine bi-national relationships, one (if not the primary) of the reasons for marriage is to bring the other partner to Canada through the grant of permanent resident status. The stricter test will likely discourage some instances of marriage fraud, and the more relaxed annulment rules would function to relieve innocent parties from obligations of support and property division that may be a significant by-product of marriage fraud. Furthermore, the Government of Canada should put into place policies that relieve defrauded spouses from their Sponsorship obligations, and it should devise a transparent and efficient system for adjudication of sponsorship grievances in order to discourage individuals from preying on others’ vulnerabilities to obtain Canadian citizenship.

This legal information is brought to you by Ivan Steele – a Toronto immigration lawyer, Toronto family lawyer