If a couple marries in a religious ceremony but did not register the marriage or obtain a marriage license, is the marriage still valid? This is an issue a lot of couples having married in a religious way face when they subsequently separate with their partner. The answer to the question determines whether a spouse is entitled to the benefits recognized under the family law regime.
Generally speaking, the court looks at four factors when determining whether the marriage is legally binding:
1.Whether the marriage was solemnized in good faith
2.Whether the parties intended to be in compliance with the Marriage Act
3. Whether either party was under a legal disqualification to contract such marriage
4. Whether after such solemnization have lived together and cohabited as a married couple.
These factors reflect section 31 of the Marriage Act. If the marriage was solemnized in good faith, intended to be in compliance with the Marriage Act, neither party was under a legal disqualification to contract such marriage, parties have lived together as a married couple, then the court will recognize the marriage, even if the person who solemnized the marriage was not authorized to solemnize the marriage and despite the absence of or any irregularity or insufficiency in the publication of banns or the issue of the license.
The caselaw has found that if one “spouse” was fully aware that there was no marriage license, the “spouse” could not be said to have good faith intent to marry. Only one of the spouses need to have the requisite intention, namely the spouse who is trying to claim spousal rights.
The rationale of section 31 of the Marriage Act is to protect the individuals who entered into a marriage in good faith but the marriage itself exhibited defect in its form. Often, such individuals are either unsophisticated or victims of domestic abuse. Under these circumstances, the individuals would be left with no recourse if the law does not recognize the validity of the marriage.
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