When a couple gets married in a country outside of Canada and then moves here, the marriage is typically recognized in Canada. But divorces can complicate matters. The rights of a spouse, as they pertain to things such as spousal support, can vary from one country or jurisdiction to another. The Supreme Court of Canada has recently issued a decision that will likely shape the way international divorces are recognized in Canada.

A wealthy family from abroad

The parents involved in the case met in Paris in the 1990s. While the father was from France, the mother was from Morocco. While together the couple had two children, born in 1997 and 2002. The family was very wealthy, and in order to save money on tax, they moved from France to Belgium in 2004. The entire family became Belgian citizens in 2012.

Canada came into the picture in 2008, when the family considered moving to Quebec. They eventually bought property and made the move in 2013. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the relationship fell apart. By 2014 the mother had told the father she was planning to file for divorce. She ultimately did file for divorce, doing so in Canada. However, the husband filed for divorce in Belgium.

Which country’s divorce should be recognized

The father’s decision to file for divorce in Belgium was no accident. Belgian law would allow the father to revoke more than $33 million worth of gifts he had given the mother, something not available to him in Canada. When the mother filed for divorce in Canada the father responded, asking the court to stay its ruling on the divorce.

The lower courts in Quebec ruled they would not recognize the Belgian divorce, calling the revoking of the gifts discriminatory. However the father was partially successful on appeal, where the court reserved judgment on the matter, stating the Belgian divorce was not yet finalized, and as such, a ruling on whether it is discriminatory was premature.  

The case goes before the Supreme Court

Quebec’s Civil Code’s article 3137 allows the courts to determine whether a divorce in another country can be recognized in Quebec. The court examined the conditions required for a foreign divorce to be recognized. They are:

  • The parties must be identical in each action
  • The action must have first originated in a foreign court
  • The court’s decision must be recognizable under a court in Quebec

This last factor, wrote the court meant, “a foreign decision will not be recognized if its outcome runs counter to the moral, social, economic or even political conceptions that underpin Quebec’s legal order.”

The Supreme Court’s decision held that the proceedings in Quebec should continue, but that the property purchased while the couple lived in Belgium would be exempt from the trial. The court wrote, “There are a number of factors in support of the possibility that that outcome will not involve the revocation of the gifts, and therefore that it will not be manifestly inconsistent with this international public order. This is enough to meet the third condition.”

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