- In Canada couples who are married or have lived together for 2 years or more are considered spouses.
- Spouses still have the right to go about their own lives independent of each other.
- Spouses are required to financially support each other if it is needed.
Married couples, whether they were married in Canada or another country, are called spouses. In Saskatchewan, couples that have lived together as spouses for two years or more are also considered spouses, in most cases. You do not give up any of your rights and freedoms because you are a spouse. You have the right to continue to go about your own life independent of your spouse. Spouses do have some legal obligations to each other.
In Canada, a couple can marry only if they are:
- over 18 (16 and 17 year olds can only marry with the consent of their parents, but no one under 16 can marry)
- not related as a grandparent, parent, child, or sibling
Any couple that meets these requirements can get married, including same-sex couples. There are no blood tests or medical examinations required.
Marriages that took place in another country are generally recognized in Canada. The marriage must have followed the procedure required in that country. Marriages in other provinces in Canada are recognized in Saskatchewan.
Lived Together as Spouses
In Saskatchewan, a couple that lives together for 2 years or more are considered spouses, in most cases. In some situations, couples who have lived together for less time may also be considered spouses.
Different definitions of spouses are used in different situations. For example, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada consider a couple to be spouses if they have lived together for a year or more.
To determine if a couple are spouses, according to law, various things are considered. These include:
- housing arrangements (does the couple sleep in the same room and if not why not?)
- sexual and personal behaviour (does the couple have sexual relations and if not why?)
- services / roles in the relationship (how matters such as household chores are dealt with)
- social behaviour (whether the couple present themselves as a couple to the community)
- community & societal views (are they viewed as a couple by their community?)
- household expenses & economic support (how the couple share costs)
Ending a Spousal Relationship
How a spousal relationship ends depends on whether the couple is married.
Either spouse in a marriage can decide they no longer want to be together. There is no court order required for this. A divorce is needed to formally end the marriage and leave the couple free to marry others, if they wish.
Spouses who are not married end their spousal relationship when they stop living together as a couple. No court order or other documentation is required.
To legally end a marriage through divorce, a court application is needed. Either spouse can apply for the divorce, or they can apply as a couple. The other spouse must be notified about the divorce application. The other spouse does not need to agree to the divorce. To apply for a divorce in Saskatchewan you must have lived here for at least one year. It does not matter if you were married in a different country or province.
In Canada, a long period of separation does not end the marriage. A religious ceremony or annulment also cannot legally end a marriage. People are not free to re-marry until they have a divorce.
Divorce when the other party lives in a country other than Canada
If your spouse does not live in Canada you can start the case here in Canada and have them served divorce papers in the country they live in. This means they are given notice that a divorce has been started. The Hague Convention for Service Abroad of Judicial Documents in Civil Matters sets out how court documents can be served in other countries that have signed the Convention.
Under the Convention, countries are required to designate a Central Authority to accept incoming requests for service, and then arrange for service in a manner permitted within that country. Court documents are sent to the Central Authority in another country either by a lawyer (if you have one) or by a registrar of the court here in Saskatchewan.
If the country your spouse lives in has not signed the Convention you can serve your spouse another way. For example, someone who lives where your spouse lives can serve them.
Grounds for Divorce
A court will grant a divorce if there has been a breakdown of the marriage. Marriage breakdown can be based on:
- separation of one year or more (the most common reason)
Separation of one year is when the spouses do not live together as spouses for a year or more. Spouses can get back together for up to 90 days to try and work things out, and still be considered separated.
Adultery is when a spouse has sex with someone other than their spouse. Cruelty is when one spouse treats the other in such a way that it would be unreasonable for the spouse to continue to live with them. Cruelty can be physical abuse or verbal abuse. Physical abuse includes things such as pushing, shaking, grabbing, slapping, or throwing objects. Verbal abuse includes things such as repeated name-calling, yelling, insults, threats or accusations. The spouse does not have to intend to hurt the other spouse for it to be cruelty. It is the effect that their actions have on their spouse that is considered.
Using adultery or cruelty as grounds for divorce may allow the divorce to be finalized before a year of separation has passed if the other spouse is willing to admit to the adultery or cruelty. If the other spouse will not admit to the adultery or cruelty, a divorce application based on these grounds would need to go to trial, and that could take much longer than a year. For this reason, many applications for divorce are based on a one year separation.
If you are a permanent resident, ending your relationship with your spouse will not mean you have to leave Canada. This is true even if your spouse is your sponsor. However, if you have temporary status or you are your spouse’s sponsor you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible about your situation.
Changing Your Name
You do not have to change your last name when you become someone’s spouse. You can choose to keep using the last name you were given at birth or the last name you were using when you became a spouse. You could also choose to start using your spouse’s last name or use a double name made up of your last name and your spouse’s last name.
You do not need to apply to change your last name if you choose one of these options. Unmarried spouses, however, must sign a declaration that they are spouses and file it with Vital Statistics.
If you choose to use a different last name you need to get your name changed on things like your driver’s licence, health services card and bank accounts. Most places charge a fee to issue new documents.
You can decide to change back to your own last name or one of the other options at any time during the relationship. If you separate, you can change back to your own last name or the name you were using before you became spouses.
Support for Spouses
Spouses must financially support each other, if it is needed. You must provide your spouse with basic things like food, clothing and a place to live, if they cannot provide for themselves.
Even if you and your spouse separate you may still have to support your spouse. Spouses who were married or have lived together for at least two years may need to pay support. Unmarried couples who had a child together and lived together in a relationship of some permanence may also need to pay support.
You and your spouse might agree about support. If you do not agree, in almost every case you will need to use a family dispute resolution process to try and resolve the issue before applying to court. After that if you still cannot come to an agreement, either party can ask the court to decide on spousal support.
There is no automatic right to spousal support once a couple separates. The court will consider how much money each spouse makes. They will look at whether one spouse needs support and whether the other spouse can afford to pay support. They will consider whether a spouse who is not working could get a job and how much that job would pay. How long the spouses have been together and things like whether one spouse stayed home to look after the children will also be considered.