In many instances, if a couple gets divorced in one country, that divorce is likely to apply in other countries they may live in. But it’s not always so cut and dry. In a recent decision from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the court had to determine whether an old divorce obtained by a couple in Syria would be recognized in Canada.
The mother and father both grew in Syria and met while they were each practicing medicine there. They were married in Syria in 1988. They had two children while married, with one being born in Syria and the other in Kuwait. By the time of the trial the children were independent adults.
The mother stopped practicing medicine in 1989, shortly after the birth of their first child. She had not returned to her career since then. They moved to Canada in 1995, but the father was unable to practice medicine here. As a result, the family moved to Abu Dhabi in 1999. The father was offered a job in Singapore in January 2006. The mother did not want to move to SIngapore, and instead it was agreed that her and the children would move back to Canada, which they did when the father started work in Singapore.
While the father had originally said he would visit the family in Canada, he informed the family that he was no longer planning to do so, but that he she “will continue to be my wife, in legal terms, as long as she chooses to do so.”
Notwithstanding his letter, the father decided to pursue a divorce in Syria in March 2008. A decree of divorce was provided to the husband in late 2008 or 2009. The only spousal support included in the decree was about $90 dollars to be paid over the first three months following the divorce. The father went to remarry and continued to reside in Singapore.
Despite the divorce decree, the father continued to provide spousal and child support, sending about $4,500 per month until August 2014. He also covered the children’s university tuition. It was when both children completed university that the father told the wife he would stop sending support payments. At the time of the trial the mother was earning minimum wage working part-time, while the husband was making about $600,000 Canadian per year in Singapore.
The mother applied to the courts for spousal support following the father’s announcement that support would cease. The husband argued he should not have to pay spousal support since the divorce he obtained in Syria meant it held jurisdiction over the matter. The mother’s position was that the divorce should be considered invalid because it was sought solely in order to eliminate support obligations.
The could held that the Syrian divorce should not be recognized since none of the grounds upon which foreign divorce may be recognized in Canada were established. The court addressed each of the grounds.
The court backed up its finding, stating “I am of the view that a process which leaves one party with absolutely no voice and no ability to defend oneself with regards to his or her own marital status, which in turn leads to that party losing significant legal rights in his or her country of residence, seriously contravenes the principles of natural justice upon which our judicial system is built.”
Recognition of the divorce was denied, and the court allowed the mother to pursue her spousal support application.
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