Are purely ceremonial marriages valid across different states and countries? The short answer is yes, as is evident by this recent case titled Lalonde v. Agha, 2021 ONCA 651. In this case, the appellant, Mr. Agha, appealed against the decision of a trial judge which mandated him to provide spousal support as well as equalization of net family property. Mr. Agha, a practicing Muslim, married Ms. Lalonde, who also converted to Islam, in a religious ceremony in a mosque in Memphis, Tennessee on August 7th, 1998, as per Sharia Law.
Later, the respondent and the appellant moved to Ontario where they cohabited as a married couple. Up until the point of separation, the two considered themselves to be legally married to one another. However, the appellant now states that the marriage in Tennessee was not formally registered with the state government, and is thus, null and void. Mr. Agha’s appeal brings into question s.31 of Ontario’s Marriage Act, wherein any invalid or purely ceremonial marriage conducted in good faith and willingness of both parties can be legitimized in the state of Ontario.
The court observed that although the marriage was invalid due to lack of license, it was not necessary to examine the Tennessee doctrine of marriage by estoppel. Since the appellant and respondent both resided in Ontario as a married couple and entered the matrimony in good faith, the post-nuptial legalities fall under provincial law. To reach this verdict, the court brought forth s. 1(1)(a) under s. 31 of the Marriage Act which states that if a marriage is solemnized in good faith and intended to comply with the Marriage Act, and the two parties have cohabited as a married couple, then the marriage is considered valid, even if it was solemnized by someone without legal authority. As the couple fulfilled all provisions of the Act except for obtaining legal certification, the court would dismiss the appellant’s plea.
If you have any questions about marriage contracts, cohabitation contracts, or the Family Law Act (FLA), contact the spousal support lawyers at Melekhovets Law. Those on our team can also serve as a divorce lawyer if your matter requires it.