We’ve previously written about foreign divorce, including whether an Ontario court has the jurisdiction to make decisions regarding child support and child support after a court outside of Canada has granted a foreign divorce. This week, we explore foreign divorce from a different perspective.

The CBC reported this week about an Iranian woman living in British Columbia who says that she is trapped in an Islamic marriage because her ex-husband refuses to “co-operate with their separation”. This is despite the fact that she and her husband have been divorced under Canadian law for many years.

A History of the Marriage: Alleged Adultery and Abuse

The couple in question were married in Iran in 1994. They moved to B.C. in 2004, after the husband was awarded a scholarship to the University of British Columbia. They have two children, now aged 12 and 14. The children live with their mother in B.C.

The couple split up in 2012, and the wife moved into an apartment. She claimed that the husband had an affair and was abusive in the final years of their marriage (including punching her and swearing at her in front of their children). In fall of 2012, the husband was charged with assaults and uttering threats (He was acquitted a year later).

The couple were granted a divorce, in B.C., in 2015.

Iranian Sharia Law and Divorce

Shortly after the divorce, the wife planned to travel to Iran to visit her mother, who was ill, and her sister, who has cerebral palsy. Her lawyer warned her that she could be stuck in Iran if she travelled without ratifying her divorce there first.

Under Iranian Sharia law, only men have the right for file for divorce, and a woman cannot obtain a divorce without her husband’s permission unless there is evidence of abuse or adultery. Where a husband does not wish to divorce he can control his wife’s ability to travel.

Legal experts note that the primary difference between a Canadian marriage and an Iranian marriage are the principles that lay at the foundation of each. Whereas a Canadian marriage is a civil contract, an Iranian marriage contains elements of religious practices and morals that must be considered in order for the marriage to even happen, or for a divorce to take place.

The wife’s lawyer told the CBC that:

I think that’s the logic behind the Iranian government sometimes not acknowledging the Canadian divorce — they say the religious aspects or requirements of the Iranian divorce are not met in a Canadian divorce…

If somebody wants to create problems and disallow their spouse from having freedom or rights in Iran … this whole issue of the Iranian divorce is one of the biggest games that they can play…

It’s literally the symbol of abuse of power to the highest extent.

Iranian Court Rejects Wife’s Divorce Application

The wife took her lawyer’s advice and applied for divorce in Iran. Her application was rejected because an Iranian court found that her application did not establish either abuse or adultery. Her subsequent appeal was also rejected for the same reasons.

Wife Turns to Canadian Law to Help

The wife told CBC that when her final appeal in Iran was rejected she cried for two or three days before deciding to turn to the Canadian court system to help.

In May 2018, the wife won a court order in B.C. compelling the husband to, among other things, submit Iranian paperwork by the end of June.  To date, the husband has not done so, citing a variety of reasons for his inaction (including lack of financial resources and difficulty finding a lawyer).

The wife has said that she is not a free person, and notes that:

After six years of my marriage being over, still someone has power and control over my life.

She fears that she has no more tools available at her disposal to help herself. She also feels empathy for other Persian woman who find themselves in the same situation as her.

To speak with an experienced Windsor lawyer about divorce or other family-related issues, contact Jason P. Howie at 519-973-1500 or contact us online. Many of our clients are referred to us by former and current clients, as well as by lawyers, accountants and other professionals.