Important to know the rules, expert says

That dream wedding in Florida or the Bahamas might seem like a great idea, but certain considerations must be taken if you want to make sure your marriage is legal when you return to Canada.


“The general rule is that we will recognize a marriage that was valid where it was entered,” says Brenda Cossman, professor of family law at the University of Toronto’s Law School. “So if you go to France and you get married in France, and the marriage is recognized as legal in France, when you come home, that will generally be recognized as a valid marriage.”


The majority of exceptions lie in what the destination requires for a marriage to be considered legal. For example, if a same-sex couple decides to get married in Massachusetts, it will not be recognized in Canada. “Massachusetts recognizes same-sex marriage,” says Cossman, “but you’re not actually allowed to do it if you’re from out of state.”


When the Rolling Stones’ lead singer Mick Jagger married his second wife, Jerry Hall, the ceremony was performed in Bali.


“If you go to Bali, you’re going to have to find out what the law is in Bali, and you’re going to have to make sure that you get the marriage licence according to Bali practices,” Cossman says. “So it raises some tricky questions to make sure that you’re actually abiding by the local law.”

Consequently, when Jagger and Hall broke up, the singer tried to say there never was a real marriage, as the ceremony was not legally recognized by Bali authorities.

Bottom line: If a marriage is legally recognized wherever you’re going, then it will be legally recognized in Canada. But making sure your marriage is legal in another country requires a certain amount of research, Cossman says, and if that’s too cumbersome, it might be easier for the couple to simply have a civil union in Canada.

“A safe route is to just go downtown and get your marriage licence,” Cossman says. “Your marriage is perfectly legal and then you can go have whatever kind of ceremony you want to have anywhere else.”