Fact Sheet: Marriage

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by Pamela Cross, LLB

In Canada, the regulation of marriage is a provincial matter, so each province has its own laws.

In Ontario, that is the Marriage Act, which sets out the rules for how marriage is to be handled.

How can I get married?

People can get married in one of two ways:

  • civilly, in a ceremony conducted by a judge, a Justice of the Peace or any other person designated by the law, or
  • religiously, in a ceremony performed by a person who is registered with the government

Certain requirements must be met for a person to become registered to perform religious marriages:

  • they must be ordained or appointed in accordance with the rules of their religious body
  • they must be recognized by their religious body as a person who is allowed to perform marriages
  • the religious body must be permanently established in Ontario
  • the person must live in Ontario

How old do I have to be?

People must be at least 18 years of age to get married.  If they are between the ages of 16 and 18, they can get married if they have the written consent of both sets of parents.

Who can marry who?

Marriage is legal for both opposite sex and same sex partners everywhere in Canada.

There is a federal law, Marriages (Prohibited Degrees) Act that prohibits marriages between people who are related in certain ways. A person cannot marry his or her child, parent, grandchild or sibling, whether that relationship is by blood or by adoption.

Can people be married to more than one person?

In Canada, polygamy -- being married to more than one person at the same time -- is prohibited under the Criminal Code, although this offence has almost never been prosecuted for more than 100 years.

Despite this law, there have been bigamous and polygamous marriages in Canada.  Sometimes people come to Canada from a country that permits polygamy.  Often, if the second or subsequent marriage has taken place in Canada, it has been in a religious ceremony that does not meet the legal requirements for a civil marriage.

This means the women in those marriages are very vulnerable -- they may believe they are legally married and would have the protection of Canadian laws if the marriage ends, but this may not be the case.

Confusingly, some provincial family law about property division and spousal support recognizes polygamous marriages if they were performed in a country where polygamy is legal.  This means that, in some circumstances, women in a polygamous marriage may have some rights to a share of the family property and/or spousal support.

What if I got married somewhere else?

Canada recognizes foreign marriages if they were performed in a way that was legal in the country where they took place, whether or not that form of marriage is legal in Canada.

This Fact Sheet contains general legal information only.  It is not a legal document, nor is it a replacement for legal advice.  Anyone in a situation involving family, immigration or refugee law is strongly urged to meet with a lawyer to understand fully their rights and responsibilities, the legal options available to them and appropriate legal processes.  A lawyer can interpret the law and provide advice based on the personal facts and information in the specific case.

For information about finding a lawyer in your community, contact Legal Aid Ontario at 1 800 668 8258 or 417 979 1446.

You can also visit Legal Aid Ontario online at www.legalaid.on.ca