Getting Married

Law

Marriage is not only a personal relationship, but also a legal one. See the sections below for information about:

  • What an engagement is under Alberta’s laws
  • Legal requirements to get married in Alberta
  • Restrictions on who can get married
  • Forced marriages compared to arranged marriages
  • Getting married outside of Alberta and “destination weddings”
  • Legal rights and responsibilities of married spouses
  • How getting married can affect your finances, property, benefits, and taxes
  • Changing your name
  • Issues related to remarriage and blended families
  • Issues related to immigration for foreign spouses

Choose the Process tab above for contact information and forms you may need.

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2017
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page has information about the legal things to consider when you are getting married. Unless otherwise specified, the law and process on this Information Page applies to people living in Alberta and people who are getting married in Alberta. Whether you are getting married for the first time or getting remarried, the information on this Information Page may be helpful for you.

Be Aware

There is a difference between “living together” and “being married.” No matter how long you live together, you are not “married” until you go through a legal marriage ceremony. And until you are legally married, you will not have the legal rights and responsibilities of a married person. For more information about the differences between living together and getting married, see the Living Together: Common-law Partnerships and Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page.

You are currently on the Law tab of this Information Page, which has information about the legal requirements to get married and other legal considerations about being married in Alberta. For information on the process you need to follow to get married, click on the Process tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

The law and legal system are complex: this will take a while. Be sure to give yourself enough time to:

  • read the information below;
  • understand how it applies to your situation; and
  • know what actions you may need to take.
What the words mean

These words are not listed alphabetically—they are in the order that makes it easiest to understand the complete legal picture.

If you are looking for a specific term, you can use the Glossary, which is in alphabetical order.

spouse

A person who is married to another person.

Be Aware

Some of the resources linked on this Information Page use the term “spouse” for both married and unmarried partners.

federal law

Laws that are made by the Government of Canada and apply to all Canadians, no matter which province they live in. Examples include: the Income Tax Act, the Criminal Code of Canada, and the Immigration Act.

provincial law

Laws that are made by a provincial or territorial government. In Alberta, provincial laws are made by the Government of Alberta and apply only in Alberta. Examples include: the Alberta Adult Interdependent Relationships Act, the Alberta Family Law Act, and the Alberta Wills and Succession Act.

jurisdiction

The right or ability of a government or a court to make decisions about things. This term describes either:

  • a particular government’s right, power, or authority to make laws; or
  • a particular court’s authority to deal with an issue.

The Government of Canada has “federal jurisdiction”—the laws the Government of Canada makes apply to everyone in Canada. On the other hand, the provinces and territories of Canada have “provincial jurisdiction”—the laws those governments make apply only within that province or territory. Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 outlines which level of government has jurisdiction over what areas.

common-law partner

In Alberta, the term “common-law” only applies to certain couples and only for certain federal laws (such as the Income Tax Act). Under most federal laws, the term “common-law” refers to a couple who has lived together in a romantic relationship:

  • for at least one year; or
  • for less than one year but they have a child together.

Under Alberta’s provincial laws, there is no such thing as “common-law” partners and “common-law” relationships. In Alberta, similar rights and responsibilities come from being in an “Adult Interdependent Relationship.”

Adult Interdependent Relationship (AIR)

The term used in Alberta to describe what many people might think of as a “common-law” relationship.

A person is in an Adult Interdependent Relationship if he or she has been living with and in a “relationship of interdependence” with another person:

  • for 3 years; or
  • for less than 3 years if they have signed an Adult Interdependent Partner Agreement; or
  • for less than 3 years if they have or adopt a child together.

A “relationship of interdependence” is a relationship where the partners are not married but they:

  • share one another’s lives;
  • are emotionally committed to one another; and
  • function as an economic and domestic unit.
Be Aware

The relationship does not have to be romantic or sexual to meet these requirements; it can be non-romantic (also called “platonic”). For information about non-romantic AIRs, see the Non-romantic Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page.

adult

A person who is at least 18 years old, which is also called the “age of majority.”

Be Aware

The age of majority is different across Canada. In Alberta, the age at which a person is considered an adult is 18.

minor

A person who is not yet an adult (has not reached the “age of majority”).

guardian (of a child)

A person who has the right to make decisions for a child, and the responsibility to care for that child by providing the “necessaries of life,” such as food and shelter. Alberta’s Family Law Act describes the decision-making powers, rights, and responsibilities of the guardians of children. This role is called “guardianship.”

In Alberta, a child is a person under the age of 18, and every child must have at least one guardian. A child may have 2 or more guardians. A person does not have to be a parent to be a guardian, and not all parents are guardians (although most are).

capacity

The term “capacity” refers to the ability (or inability) to make decisions.

In general, there are 2 parts to mental capacity:

  1. The ability to understand the nature of a decision. This includes understanding all of the information that is relevant to a particular decision.
  2. The ability to understand the consequences of making a decision. That is, a person with capacity would understand what could happen as a result of making a certain decision.

Legally, mental capacity is a clear concept: at any given moment, you either have capacity, or you do not. However, capacity can change from moment to moment. For example:

  • a person who is drunk or high may not have capacity, even if they otherwise would; and
  • a person can flip back and forth between having capacity and not having capacity, due to things such as the effect of medications (or forgetting to take them), or changing blood sugar levels.

In Alberta, the law assumes everyone 18 or older has mental capacity, unless it is shown otherwise (usually by a doctor's opinion or a judge's decision).

consent

To give permission for something to happen, or to agree to do something. Only people with capacity can consent.

domestic contract

A legal agreement between 2 or more people who are either:

  • living together;
  • will soon be living together; or
  • were living together and are now ending their relationship.

A domestic contract allows the parties (romantic or non-romantic) to create their own terms for their relationship. This may include rights and responsibilities they have toward one another during the relationship, as well as after the relationship ends. Or, if they are ending the relationship, it allows them to decide for themselves how to resolve the issues between them. Some examples of domestic contracts are cohabitation agreements, pre-nuptial agreements, marriage agreements, and separation agreements.

cohabitation agreement

A contract created by 2 or more people who:

  • live together, or are about to live together; and
  • are not married, and do not plan to get married in the near future.

In this agreement, the parties can address many issues, such as:

  • how bills will be divided between the parties;
  • whether one party will pay partner support to the other if they were to separate; and
  • how property will be divided between the parties if they were to separate.

pre-nuptial agreement

A contract created by 2 people who are planning to get married in the near future. This agreement can include rights and responsibilities they have toward one another during the marriage, as well as after the marriage ends. The parties can address many issues regarding their marriage, such as:

  • how bills will be divided between the spouses;
  • whether one party will pay spousal support to the other if they were to separate; and
  • how property will be divided between the spouses if they were to separate.

marriage agreement

A contract created by 2 people who are already married. This agreement can include rights and responsibilities they have toward one another during the marriage, as well as after the marriage ends. The spouses can address many issues regarding their marriage, such as:

  • how bills will be divided between the spouses;
  • whether one party will pay spousal support to the other if they were to separate; and
  • how property will be divided between the spouses if they were to separate.

matrimonial home

The home where the spouses normally live together, or used to live together. It must be owned or leased by at least one of the spouses. Although there may be more than one matrimonial home during a marriage, there can only be one matrimonial home at a time. This term does not apply to non-married partners.

blended family

When people start relationships with new partners, they might form what is called a “blended family.” A blended family can have children from previous relationships and from the current relationship. Blended families can have complicated financial issues, such as child and partner support responsibilities.

Will

A document that says what will happen to your “estate” once you have died. Your “estate” is most (or sometimes even all) of your property, including money, that is distributed by your Will.

Testator

The person who writes a Will.

estate

The property that you own at the time of your death and that will be passed to others through your Will. This process is called “passing through” your Will, or being “distributed through” your Will.

There are several kinds of property that are not included in your estate:

  • property that you held in “joint tenancy” with one or more other people;
  • insurance policies where you have already named a beneficiary; and
  • retirement savings plans (such as pension plans, RRSPs, TFSAs, and RRIFs) that have a named beneficiary.

Personal Representative

A person named to manage the estate of a person who has died. There are 2 ways to become a Personal Representative:

  • the person can be named as a Personal Representative in the Will of a deceased person; or
  • a court appoints the person as a Personal Representative in a “grant of administration.”

intestacy

The state of having died without leaving a Will. When someone dies without a Will, they are said to have died “intestate.”

beneficiary

A person who gets money or property (a “benefit”) because they are named as the recipient of that benefit in a legal document. The benefit can come from different things, such as:

  • a life insurance policy;
  • someone’s Will; or
  • a trust. (A trust occurs where another person legally owns and takes care of the property for the benefit of the beneficiary.)

debt

The state of owing money. For example:

  • a loan;
  • the amount owed on your credit cards; or
  • something you are still making payments on (such as the living room furniture that you have another 18 months to pay off).

joint tenancy

When 2 or more people own all of an asset together, that property is held in “joint tenancy.” Each person involved is called a “joint tenant.” For example: a joint bank account. Under joint tenancy, all of the joint tenants own all of the money in the bank account (not just their “share”). If one of the joint tenants dies, the entire account goes to the surviving joint tenant(s): the property is not part of the deceased’s estate.

tenancy in common

When 2 or more people own an asset together, but each owns a portion, that property is held in “tenancy in common.” Each person involved is called a “tenant in common.” For example: land. Under tenancy in common, each of the tenants owns a portion (or share) of the value of the land. If one of the tenants in common dies, that person’s portion does not automatically go to the other owner(s). Instead, that portion goes through the Will of the deceased.

guarantee

An agreement you sign that makes you responsible for repaying someone else’s loan. You will not be responsible unless that person has missed payments or is otherwise unable to pay back the loan.

If you agree to be responsible for another person’s debt in this way, you are called a “guarantor.”

Be Aware

“Co-signing” a loan and “guaranteeing” a loan are very similar concepts. Both involve becoming legally responsible for someone else’s loan if that other person is not able to pay. The difference is when you can become responsible. If you guarantee a loan, the lender must try to get payment from the borrower before going after you for payment. If you co-sign for a loan, you have agreed to be as responsible for the loan as the borrower. This means that the lender can come after you for repayment at the same time as they go after the borrower. They may even come after you before going after the borrower, but that is not common.

co-signing

Putting your name on an official document, such as a loan or contract, together with someone else. When a person co-signs for a loan, they are just as responsible for the loan as the person who borrowed the money. For example: a parent might co-sign a loan with their child. If the child misses a payment, the bank can make the parent pay back the whole loan immediately.

A person who co-signs a loan is called a “co-signer.”

Be aware: “Co-signing” a loan and “guaranteeing” a loan are very similar concepts. Both involve becoming legally responsible for someone else’s loan if that other person is not able to pay. The difference is when you can become responsible. If you guarantee a loan, the lender must try to get payment from the borrower before going after you for payment. If you co-sign for a loan, you have agreed to be as responsible for the loan as the borrower. This means that the lender can come after you for repayment at the same time as they go after the borrower. They may even come after you before going after the borrower, but that is not common.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)

A special kind of account that is registered with the federal government, which you use to save for retirement. The money you put into an RRSP is not included as “income” on your tax return when you deposit it, so you do not pay “income tax” on that money during that year. Instead, you will pay income tax on that money when you take it out of the account.

Every year, you are allowed to contribute a certain percent of your income to your RRSP. All of the money in your RRSP can grow tax-free during the time it is in that account.

When you open an RRSP, you will be asked to fill out a “Designation of Beneficiary” form. Your beneficiary can be updated later if you want or need to change it.

Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)

A special kind of account that is registered with the federal government, which you can use to save money. Unlike with regular savings accounts, the income earned on the money while it is in the account is completely tax-free, while it grows in the account and when you take it out of the account. Every year, there is a maximum amount of money that you are allowed to deposit into a TFSA.

When you open a TFSA, you will be asked to fill out a “Designation of Beneficiary” form. Your beneficiary can be updated later if you want or need to change it.

The laws that may apply to you

As you work through your legal issues, you may wish to read the laws (also called “statutes” or “acts”) that apply. The laws included on this Information Page are:

Web Marriage Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

Web Civil Marriage Act
Government of Canada
English

Web Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
Government of Canada
English



Web Criminal Code
Government of Canada
English

Web Vital Statistics Act (and associated Regulations)
Government of Alberta
English

When reading laws, you also need to know about the “regulations” associated with those laws. Each of the links above takes you to a page that lists the laws as well as the regulations that go with them. For more information on laws and regulations, see the Our Legal System Information Page.

Engagement

An engagement happens when one person asks another person to marry them, and that other person says “yes.” Either partner in the couple can ask the other person to marry them. There is no rule about who must ask who. The people can be of any gender: in Canada, same-sex marriage is allowed.

Although many of us think of an engagement as only a tradition, Alberta law views an engagement as an “agreement to marry.” In other words, it is a contract—and there may be legal consequences if that contract is broken. The person who breaks the engagement may be sued for “breach of promise to marry.”

Given the high cost of going to court, suing for breach of promise is quite rare and is usually only done in extreme circumstances.

Be Aware

Suing for breach of promise to marry is not possible in all provinces. For example, Ontario, Manitoba, and British Columbia do not allow this. However, it is still possible in Alberta.

​​​​​​

For more information about ending an engagement, see the Ending a Non-married Romantic Relationship Information Page.

Marriage: The basics

Marriage is not only a personal relationship, but also a legal one. The basic legal foundations of marriage are:

  • It is a relationship between only 2 people.
  • It is different than just living together.
  • It is governed by both federal and provincial laws.
  • The laws that govern married relationships are different than the laws that govern non-married relationships.
  • Ending the marriage is also a legal process guided by specific laws.

Each of these points are described in more detail just below.

Marriage is a relationship between only 2 people

It is impossible for a person to have more than one legal spouse—it is illegal to be married to more than one person at a time.

Be Aware

It is possible to have both a “spouse” and an “Adult Interdependent Partner” (AIP). This could happen if you are separated but not divorced from your married spouse. You could then become the AIP of another person by either living together for 3 years, or having/adopting a child together. These situations are not common and can get complicated.

If you are in a polyamorous relationship and want to get married, you will only be able to marry one of your partners. For more information, see the “Polyamorous considerations” section below.

If you or someone you are about to marry is getting a divorce, you will not be able to get married until the divorce is finalized. This means the person who is getting the divorce must first receive a Divorce Certificate before marrying again. For more information about remarriage, see the “Blended family considerations and remarriage” section below.

Living together does not mean you are married

Being married is different from:

  • 2 people living together;
  • being in a “common-law” relationship; or
  • being in an “Adult Interdependent Relationship” (AIR).

It does not matter how long you have lived together with another person; you are not “married” until you go through a legal marriage ceremony.

For more information about common-law partnerships and Adult Interdependent Relationships, see:

Marriage is governed by both federal and provincial laws

In Canada, the federal government and provincial governments each have power over certain aspects of marriage. Therefore, when you get married, there are certain federal laws and certain provincial laws you must follow.

Federal laws

Federal laws of Canada set out rules about who can and cannot get married in Canada. For example, the federal government had the power to legalize same-sex marriage across the whole country. The federal government also decides which marriages are not allowed. For example: marriage between people who are related (by blood or adoption), and being married to more than one person at a time.

Provincial laws

Each province also has its own law about marriage. These provincial laws usually set out things such as:

  • minimum age requirements;
  • the marriage process;
  • marriage licence requirements; and
  • marriage registration requirements.

In Alberta, this law is called the Marriage Act.

Because each province has a different provincial law for marriage, you will need to learn about the law in the province where you want to get married. Even if you live in Alberta, if you get married in another province, you will have to follow the marriage rules in that province. For more information about this, see the section below called “Getting married outside of Alberta.”

More information

For more information on the different federal and provincial laws that affect marriage, see the following resources.

Web Wedding Law: By the Authority Vested in Me
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Marriage FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

The laws that govern married relationships are different than the laws that govern non-married relationships

Common-law couples and Adult Interdependent Partners do not have all of the same rights and responsibilities as married couples.

For more information about the rights and responsibilities of married couples, see the “Being married: Legal rights and responsibilities” section below.

For more information about the rights and responsibilities of non-married couples, see Living Together: Common Law Partnerships & Adult Interdependent Relationships Information Page.

The laws that govern the end of married relationships are different than those that govern the end of non-married relationships

There are many differences between unmarried and married relationships if the relationship breaks down. For example:

  • Unmarried people may not need to take legal steps to end their relationship. However, to legally end a marriage, a couple must get an annulment or a divorce. The law that governs divorces is Canada’s Divorce Act.
  • Unmarried people can only use one law (Alberta’s Family Law Act) to deal with parenting, partner support, and child support. Married spouses can use the Family Law Act or Canada’s Divorce Act.
  • Married spouses have much more protection when dividing property. Alberta’s Matrimonial Property Act (MPA) governs the property rights of married people. Unmarried partners are not protected by the MPA.
  • If you are married, Alberta’s Dower Act gives you certain rights in the home that you lived in. For example: if you separate and your home is in your spouse’s name, your spouse will not be able to sell the home without your consent. Unmarried partners do not have dower rights.

For more information about ending married relationships, see the Information Pages listed on the “Breakdown in family relationships” section of this website.

Be Aware

These laws establish what are the “basic” or “default” rights for ending a marriage. These default rights may not suit every couple. Some of them can be changed by contract. So, before you get married or shortly after, you may want to create a pre-nuptial or marriage agreement. These agreements can set out the terms that will govern important issues during your marriage and what will happen if you later separate. For more information, see the section below called “Domestic contracts: Cohabitation, pre-nuptial agreements, and marriage agreements.”

Legal requirements to get married in Alberta

If you are getting married in Alberta, you will need to meet certain requirements for your marriage to be valid.

Age

In Canada, no one under the age of 16 years old can get married.

Be Aware

Recent changes to the Criminal Code of Canada raised the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 16 years old. The Alberta Marriage Act still says that under very specific circumstances, females under 16 can get married. However, the Criminal Code makes it clear that anyone who helps with, participates in, or celebrates the marriage of a person who is under 16 years old can be charged with a crime. This is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

In Alberta, generally you must be at least 18 years old to get married. This is the age where you are considered an adult. It is also called the “age of majority.” If you are over 18 years old, you do not need permission from your parents or guardians to get married.

Be Aware

The age of majority is different for different provinces. You may be able to get married in one province without anyone’s consent but not another. Always check the law for the province you want to get married in. See the section below called “Getting married outside of Alberta” for more information.

If you are between 16 and 18 years old, you may be able to get married in Alberta. You will need to get written permission from all of your parents or guardians. Under certain conditions, however, you may only need the permission of one guardian. To find out the exact permission required for your situation, contact a registry agent.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English

For more detailed information on getting married if you are under 18 years old, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Young persons getting married
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Youth FAQs – Family
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “How old do I have to be to get married”


Be Aware

If you are under 18 years old, once you get married you become your own guardian. Your parents or previous guardians will no longer have the power to make decisions for you. They also will no longer be legally required to provide you with the “necessaries of life,” such as food and shelter. In other words, you will now have to make your own decisions and look after yourself. For more information about the role of a guardian, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Guardianship rights to a child
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Guardianship
Children's Legal & Educational Resource Centre
English

Capacity

To get married, both people must have capacity. The term “capacity” refers to the ability (or inability) to make decisions.

In general, there are 2 parts to mental capacity:

  1. The ability to understand the nature of a decision. This includes understanding all of the information that is relevant to a particular decision.
  2. The ability to understand the consequences of making a decision. That is, a person with capacity would understand what could happen as a result of making a certain decision.

As a result, to get married both people must understand:

  • what they are about to do (get married);
  • the process of the marriage ceremony; and
  • the consequences of getting married, such as their rights and responsibilities.

In Alberta, the law assumes everyone 18 or older has mental capacity, unless it is shown otherwise (usually by a doctor’s opinion or a judge’s decision). In general, anyone who is under the age of 18 is considered to not have capacity.

Legally, mental capacity is a clear concept: at any given moment, you either have capacity, or you do not. However, it can change from moment to moment. For example:

  • a person who is drunk or high may not have capacity, even if they otherwise would; and
  • a person can flip back and forth between having capacity and not having capacity, due to things such as the effect of medications (or forgetting to take them), or changing blood sugar levels.

If you want to get married, you must make sure that you have capacity at the time of the marriage.

Be Aware

An adult who does not have capacity and is under a Guardianship Order may wish to marry. This can be complicated. Consider talking to a lawyer. See the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

For more information on capacity to marry, see the following resource.

Web Marriage FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “What does capacity to marry mean?”

Consent

Getting married must be a free choice. No one should ever be forced or tricked into getting married. Consenting means giving permission. This means that both parties agree to get married.

Only people with capacity can consent. If you don’t have capacity, it does not matter if you think you have consented to marry, the marriage will not be valid.

Minors cannot consent

Legally, a person under the age of 18 (a “minor”) does not have capacity. Therefore, a minor cannot give consent. This means that if a minor agrees to marry you, you may not be able to “hold” them to it.

Forced marriages

If you are being forced to marry someone, there is no consent. As a result, forced marriages are not valid marriages. Also, forcing a person to marry someone is a form of family violence. For more information, see the Partner Abuse Information Page.

Be Aware

A forced marriage is not the same thing as an arranged marriage. For more information about the differences, see the section below called “Forced marriages vs. arranged marriages.”

Getting a marriage licence before the wedding

To get married in Alberta, you must first get a marriage licence. A marriage licence is a document that shows that a couple has met all the requirements to get married in Alberta.

To get a marriage licence, both of you must go together to a registry office. You will have to pay a fee. You can get a marriage licence on that same day as long as you meet all the requirements. For example, at the time you apply:

  • You cannot still be married to someone else. Therefore, if you got a divorce, you must provide an official document that proves that you are divorced.
  • You cannot be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • You must show approved government photo identification.

For detailed information about the requirements for getting a marriage licence in Alberta, see the following resource.

Web Marriage Licences
Government of Alberta
English

Once issued, a marriage licence is valid for up to 3 months. This means that you must get married within 3 months of the date you buy your marriage licence, or it will expire and you will need to pay for another one.

You can get a marriage licence from any registry agent in Alberta. See the following resource.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

Alberta marriage licences are only valid in Alberta. If you get a marriage licence in Alberta, you must get married in Alberta. If you plan on having a wedding outside of Alberta, you must get the proper paperwork done in the location where you plan on getting married. See the “Getting married outside of Alberta” section below.

Valid type of ceremony

There are 2 types of wedding ceremonies in Alberta: civil or religious. You can choose which type of ceremony you want. You will be legally married after a valid marriage ceremony, no matter which type you choose.

Sometimes, a couple may want more than one ceremony. For example:

  • one spouse may be religious and the other not, and they may each want their own kind of ceremony;
  • the spouses may be of different religions, and they may each want a ceremony in their house of worship; or
  • the couple may want to be officially married in Alberta but also want a ceremony and celebration to take place in another location.

In such cases, only one of the ceremonies has to meet the “legal requirements” with respect to the officiant, the witnesses, and the vows as described below. The ceremony that does meet the legal requirements will be your “official” ceremony. At that ceremony, your marriage officiant will sign your marriage licence, and that date will be your legal date of marriage. Any second ceremony you may have does not need to meet the legal requirements.

For more information about civil and religious ceremonies, see the following resources.

Web Getting Married
Government of Alberta
English

Web Wedding Law: By the Authority Vested in Me
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Marriage officiants

A marriage “officiant” is the person who performs the wedding ceremony. There are 2 types of marriage officiants:

  • marriage commissioners who perform civil ceremonies; and
  • religious representatives or members of the clergy who are registered to perform religious wedding ceremonies.

Both types of officiants can legally marry you. Which one you choose depends on what type of ceremony you want to have.

For more information about marriage officiants, see the following resources.

Web Marriage Officiants
Government of Alberta
English

Web Wedding Law: By the Authority Vested in Me
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Who Can perform a Legal Marriage Ceremony?
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Witnesses

You must have 2 adult witnesses physically present at the wedding ceremony. The witnesses must:

  • be at least 18 years old;
  • have capacity (see the definition of “capacity” above);
  • be fluent in the language being used at the wedding ceremony; and
  • understand the documents to be signed.

For detailed information about witness requirements and responsibilities, see the following resource.

Web Getting Married
Government of Alberta
English
See “Ceremony Requirements.”

Wedding vows

Couples can write their own vows for their wedding.

However, there are 2 statements the Marriage Act requires. The people who are getting married must each say:

  • “I do solemnly declare that I do not know of any lawful impediment why I, (name), may not be joined in matrimony to (name).”
  • “I call upon those persons present to witness that I do take you to be my lawful wedded (wife/husband/spouse).”

For your marriage to be legal in Alberta, you must include these 2 statements in your vows.

If you choose to have a religious ceremony, you should talk to your marriage officiant about what you need to include in your vows in addition to the 2 statements above. Each religion will have its own traditions and requirements. But religious traditions and requirements will not affect the legality of the marriage.

Marriage registration

All marriages performed in Alberta must be registered with the Government of Alberta. A registration form comes with your marriage licence. This form is to be filled out and signed during the marriage ceremony. After the ceremony, one part of the form will be given to you as a “proof of marriage document.” The marriage officiant will submit the other part of the form to Vital Statistics within 2 days of the ceremony.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Getting Married
Government of Alberta
English

Web Registration of Marriages
Government of Alberta
English

Once your marriage is registered, you can order a marriage certificate. For more information, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Restrictions on who can marry

There are 3 groups of people who cannot get married in Canada:

  • people who are too young;
  • people who are already married to someone else; and
  • people who are related by blood or adoption.

People who are too young

In Canada, no one under the age of 16 can get married.

Be Aware

Recent changes to the Criminal Code of Canada raised the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 16 years old. The Alberta Marriage Act still says that under very specific circumstances, females under 16 can get married. However, the Criminal Code makes it clear that anyone who helps with, participates in, or celebrates the marriage of a person who is under 16 years old can be charged with a crime. This is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

In Alberta, generally you must be at least 18 years old to get married. This is the age where you are considered an adult. It is also called the “age of majority.” If you are over 18 years old, you do not need permission from your parents or guardians to get married.

Be Aware

The age of majority is different for different provinces. As a result, you may be able to get married in one province without anyone’s consent but not another. Always check the law for the province you want to get married in. See the section below called “Getting married outside of Alberta” for more information.

If you are between 16 and 18 years old, you may be able to get married in Alberta. You will need to get written permission from all of your parents or guardians. Under certain conditions, however, you may only need the consent of one guardian. To find out the exact consent you need for your situation, contact a registry agent.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English

For more detailed information on getting married if you are under 18 years old, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Young persons getting married
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Youth FAQs – Family
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See "How old do I have to be to get married?"
Be Aware

If you are under 18 years old, once you get married you become your own guardian. Your parents or previous guardians will no longer have the power to make decisions for you. They also will no longer be legally required to provide you with the “necessaries of life,” such as food and shelter. In other words, you will now have to make your own decisions and look after yourself. For more information about the role of a guardian, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Guardianship rights to a child
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Guardianship
Children's Legal & Educational Resource Centre
English

People who are already married

In Canada, you cannot marry someone who is already married. There are some cultures that practice bigamy or polygamy. “Bigamy” is when someone is married to 2 people at once. “Polygamy” is when someone is married to 3 or more people at once. Both bigamy and polygamy are against the law in Canada.

Be Aware

Some people may choose to be in polyamorous relationships. These are relationships where you have more than one romantic partner. However, you can only be married to one of these partners.

If you or someone you are about to marry is in the process of getting divorced, you must wait until the divorce is finalized. This means must receive a “Divorce Certificate.” A Divorce Certificate is not the same thing as a “Divorce Judgment.”

  • A Divorce Judgment is the order given by the judge that says you can divorce. The parties have 30 days to appeal that order if they wish to do so.
  • A Divorce Certificate is the document that says the divorce was completed. You can only apply for it once the 30-day appeal period has passed.

Registry agents will need to see the Divorce Certificate to grant you a marriage licence.

For information about how to get a Divorce Certificate, see the “Finalizing the divorce” section on the Process tab of the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

People who are related by blood or adoption

In Canada, you are not allowed to marry someone who is related to you “lineally” by blood or adoption. Being “lineally related” means a person is related to another person through a direct line in ancestry. For example, you are lineally related to your parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren,brothers, and sisters.

This means that you cannot marry your son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, half-sister, or half-brother.

Remember

This restriction applies even if you are only related by adoption.

Forced marriages vs. arranged marriages

Some people might think of “forced marriage” and “arranged marriage” as the same thing, but they are not.

  • Forced marriage is not allowed in Canada.
  • Arranged marriages can be allowed, as long as both parties truly consent.

Arranged marriages

Arranged marriages are very common in some cultures. In these situations, a person does not find their own marriage partner. Instead, family members or friends select a possible partner for their adult child intending for them to get married. However, both possible partners in this arrangement have the right to choose whether or not they want to marry the recommended person. Therefore, in arranged marriages, there is consent from both people in the relationship.

For more information about arranged marriage, see the following resource.

Web Before Getting Married
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Forced marriage

Forced marriage happens when one or both of the people do not consent to the marriage. They are made to marry the person someone else has selected even though they don’t want to. Remember that in Canada, both people must consent to getting married to each other for a marriage to be valid.

People might try to use abuse, threats, and pressure to force one person to marry another. Sometimes, people are sent or taken to a foreign country for the purpose of being forced to marry, and they have no idea until they get there. Once they get to the foreign country, their “friends” or family members might take away their belongings to prevent them from returning home.

Forced marriages are “voidable” marriages. This means there was a legal flaw or mistake in the marriage. A voidable marriage can be annulled. An annulment legally changes the situation to be as if the marriage had never happened in the first place. For more information on annulments, see the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

If a person was forced to marry in a foreign country, they can seek an annulment to undo the marriage once they return to Canada. Getting a marriage annulled involves going to court and can be a complex process. It may be helpful to have a lawyer. For more information, see the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

For more information about forced marriage, see the following resources.

Web Forced marriage
Government of Canada
English

Web Mariage forcé
Government of Canada
French

Web Forced Marriage
Children's Legal & Educational Resource Centre
English

Web It's a Choice: Forced marriage is a form of violence
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
English

PDF Crimes not Cultures
United Cultures of Canada Association
English
Start on p. 55.
Getting married outside of Alberta (including “destination weddings”)

The term “destination wedding” generally describes a wedding that takes place in a jurisdiction outside of where the couple usually lives. It could be in a different province, or it could be in a different country entirely. Depending on where your wedding will take place, you will need to learn about that area’s laws about getting married.

Getting married in another province in Canada

Each province has its own provincial marriage laws. Therefore, if you plan on getting married outside of Alberta but within Canada, you will need to learn about the laws in that province. There may be important differences regarding age limits, required documents, time limits, and fees.

For an overview of the differences across Canada, see the following resource.

Web FAQs by Certificate Type
Civil Processing Bureau
English
This is a private source. Learn more here. Select “Marriage certificate.”

For information about the laws in a particular province, see the following resources.

British Columbia


Web Marriages
Government of British Columbia
English

Web Getting Married in British Columbia
Canadian Bar Association - British Columbia Branch
English

PDF 结婚
Canadian Bar Association - British Columbia Branch
Chinese

PDF ਵਿਆਹ ਕਰਵਾਉਣਾ
Canadian Bar Association - British Columbia Branch
Punjabi

Manitoba

Web Getting Married in Manitoba
Government of Manitoba
English

Web Se marier au Manitoba
Government of Manitoba
French

New Brunswick

Web Getting Married
Government of New Brunswick
English

Web Se marier
Government of New Brunswick
French

Newfoundland and Labrador

Web Getting Married
Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
English

Northwest Territories

Web Marriage License
Government of Northwest Territories
English

Web Licence de mariage
Government of Northwest Territories
French

Nova Scotia

Web Marriage
Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
English

Nunavut

Web Marriage Certificate
Government of Nunavut
English

Web Certificat de mariage
Government of Nunavut
French

Web Katuhikhiktunut Naunaitkutit
Government of Nunavut
Inuinnaqtun, Other languages

Web ᑲᑎᑎᑕᐅᓂᕐᒧᑦ ᓇᓗᓇᐃᒃᑯᑕᖅ
Government of Nunavut
Inuktitut

Ontario

Web Getting Married
Your Legal Rights
English, French

Prince Edward Island

Web Getting Married in PEI
Government of Prince Edward Island
English

Saskatchewan

Web Marriages
Government of Saskatchewan
English

Quebec

Web Marriage in Quebec
Éducaloi
English

Web Le mariage au Québec
Éducaloi
French

Web Marriage and Civil Union
Government of Québec
English

Web Mariage et l'union civile
Government of Québec
French

Yukon

Web How to get married in Yukon
Government of Yukon
English

Web Le mariage au Yukon
Government of Yukon
French

Getting married outside of Canada

Destination weddings often take place in another country. For example: an Alberta couple may want to get married on a beach in Mexico or the Caribbean. Or, a person who normally lives in Canada may be marrying a person who lives in another country and they may decide to have the wedding in that other country.

If you are planning to marry outside of Canada, you should learn about the laws and procedures of the jurisdiction where you plan on getting married. Each country has its own marriage laws. As a result, you might need different documents or personal identification, or pay different fees depending on where you go. For example:

  • In some jurisdictions, you will need to get blood work done before your wedding.
  • In some countries, you may need special paperwork to prove that you are single before you can get married.
  • Some countries will require you to be in the country for a certain amount of time before the wedding.

Generally, a foreign marriage is recognized in Canada as long as:

  • it was legal and validly performed in the country where you got married; and
  • it meets the requirements for a valid marriage in Canada.

The requirements for a valid marriage in Canada are:

  • The marriage is between only 2 people.
  • Both people must consent to the marriage.
  • Neither person is less than 16 years old.
  • Neither person is already married to someone else. If a person was previously married, they must have finalized their divorce before the new marriage.
  • The spouses may not be related “lineally” by blood or adoption. This means that a person cannot marry their son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, sister, brother, half-sister, or half-brother.

As long as the requirements from both countries are met, you do not need to register the marriage in Canada for it to be valid here. But you may be required to prove that the marriage met the legal requirements in the country where it took place. As a result, it is important to get a marriage certificate from the country where you got married. This will be your proof that you were validly married in that country.

Tip

When researching the laws and procedures for international marriages, it is a good idea to check with the official government website for the country of interest. Official government websites will likely have the most updated and correct information. Not all of the sites you may find on the Internet will have reliable information.

For more information on getting married outside of Canada, see the following resources.

Web Marriage Overseas
Government of Canada
English

Web Mariage à l'étranger
Government of Canada
French

Web Wedding Law: By the Authority Vested in Me
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “Recognition of Foreign Marriages.”

Web The Pitfalls of Foreign Marriage and Divorce: Part 1
RCMV Family Lawyers
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Will the Canadian government recognize my foreign marriage?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Gujarati, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Family Law Education for Women
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. Choose your language, then see topic #11.

Video Getting Married In a Foreign Country: What You Should Know
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web US Marriage Laws
USmarriagelaws.com
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Are Destination Weddings Legal?
Lawyers.com
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here. NOTE: This article is based on American law. However, it raises good points to think about if you are planning a destination wedding.
Domestic contracts: Cohabitation agreements, pre-nuptial agreements, and marriage agreements

Before you get married, both of you may want to think about how you want to deal with important issues that may arise during your marriage, and what will happen if you later separate. As you prepare for marriage, your relationship likely feels stable and healthy. You can’t imagine things ever going wrong. But the numbers show that about half of all marriages end in divorce. It may be worthwhile to be cautious and create a domestic contract that will protect both of your interests.

Cohabitation agreements

A contract created by 2 or more people who:

  • live together, or are about to live together; and
  • are not married, and do not plan to get married in the near future.

If you plan on living together before you marry, you may want one of these agreements.

In this agreement, the parties can address many issues. For example:

  • how bills will be divided between the parties;
  • whether one party will pay partner support to the other if they were to separate; and
  • how property will be divided between the parties if they were to separate.

A cohabitation agreement is a good way for the parties to set their own “rules” for their relationship. The parties involved are largely free to contract as they wish. However, in such agreements, the law still applies. For more information, see the Cohabitation Agreements Information Page.

Pre-nuptial and marriage agreements

A pre-nuptial agreement is a domestic contract created by 2 people who are planning to get married in the near future. A marriage agreement is a domestic contract created by 2 people who are already married.

In a pre-nuptial or marriage agreement, the parties involved can set out the terms that will govern important issues during their relationship and what will happen if they later separate.

Pre-nuptial agreements and marriage agreements have very similar legal requirements because both types of agreements are used to govern a married relationship.

Be Aware

Although a pre-nuptial agreement is created before marriage, it is only effective after the parties are married. Therefore, if the parties do not end up getting married, the pre-nuptial agreement will not govern their current relationship or what will happen at the end of the relationship.

A pre-nuptial or marriage agreement is a good way for the parties to set their own “rules” for their marriage. The parties involved are largely free to contract as they wish. However, in such agreements, the law still applies. For more information, see the Pre-nuptial & Marriage Agreements Information Page.

If you and your partner have already signed a cohabitation agreement and you are now getting married.

If you and your partner already created a cohabitation agreement earlier in your relationship, you are probably wondering if it will still be effective once you get married.

Often, a cohabitation agreement will not continue to be valid once the parties are married. This is because the legal requirements for creating cohabitation agreements and pre-nuptial agreements are different. If a cohabitation agreement does not meet the requirements for a pre-nuptial agreement, it will not be valid if the parties get married.

For more information, see the “What happens to our cohabitation agreement if we later get married?” section on the Cohabitation Agreements Information Page.

Changing your name after getting married

In Alberta, you do not have to change your name when you get married. However, either of you can choose to change your names or your children’s names after getting married. Often spouses prefer to have a matching surname (last name).

After you get married, you can choose to keep your name, take on your spouse’s name, or create a new surname (usually by combining your surnames with a hyphen or a space). For example:

  • Jaime Smith and Alex Lee got married.
  • Their new surname could be Smith, Lee, Smith-Lee, Lee-Smith, Smith Lee, or Lee Smith.

If you want to take on your spouse’s name or create a new surname, you can do so in 2 ways:

  1. You can “assume” (take on) your spouse’s name without legally changing it.
  2. You can legally change your name.
Be Aware

Each province has their own rules for changing names. If you plan on changing your name in a province other than Alberta, you will need to learn about the laws and procedures for that specific province.

“Assuming” (taking on) your spouse’s name without legally changing your name

Assuming your spouse’s name is based on the tradition of taking a spouse’s last name. It is not the same thing as a “legal” name change. Your legal name (the name that appears on your birth certificate) will not change if you assume a new surname.

To assume a new surname, you simply have to start using it. You will need to update all of your identification to reflect your name change. To do this, most organizations will want to see “evidence” of your name change. You can show them your marriage certificate.

For many forms and documents, it will be fine for you to use your assumed name. However, there will be some situations where you must use your “legal” name (not just your assumed name). For example: court documents. In general, it will be very clear when you need to provide your full legal name. Remember this is the name that appears on your birth certificate.

Remember

Assuming someone else’s name is not the same as legally changing your name. To change your legal name, you must follow a certain legal process.

For more information about assuming a new surname, see the following resource.

Web Married last name
Government of Alberta
English

Legally changing your name

To legally change your name, you must apply at a registry office. You can apply in person or in writing.

Be Aware

When you legally change your name, your name on your birth certificate will change.

You must meet certain requirements to be allowed to change your name in Alberta. There are also some restrictions on your choice of name. For more information, see the following resources.

Web Changing a Name | How it works
Government of Alberta
English

Web Changing a Name | Eligibility
Government of Alberta
English

For more information on how to legally change your name, including how to find a registry office near you, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

If you want to change your name back

Sometimes, people decide to change their name back. This might happen if you later separate or divorce.

If you assumed a new surname when you got married, you can simply go back to using your legal name. You will need to change the name on your identification (for example: your driver’s licence) to reflect that change.

If you legally changed your surname when you got married, you will have to go through the same steps to change it back to your birth name.

More information

For more information about changing your name after getting married, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Marriage as Legal Relationship
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Change of Name
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

Web Changing a Name | How it works
Government of Alberta
English

Video What Happens to Your Last Name When You Get Married?
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
Being married: Legal rights and responsibilities

Marriage is not only a personal relationship, but also a legal one. When you get married, your legal status changes. You keep some of the rights you always had, but you also have some new rights and responsibilities.

The legal rights of spouses have changed a lot over the years. Many people believe things about the rights of spouses that are not true. It is important to be clear about the rights you have and do not have as a married person. These rights are described below under 10 different topics:

  • Right to personal control
  • Rights related to sex
  • Rights related to property ownership
  • Dower rights and the matrimonial home
  • Rights related to testifying in court: “spousal privilege”
  • Right to share the responsibility for children
  • Right to financial support during the marriage
  • Right to the “necessaries of life”
  • Rights related to decision-making when dealing with illness
  • Rights related to decision-making when dealing with death

Right to personal control

When a couple gets married, they expect to be part of each other’s lives. Each couple must work this out for themselves. Some married couples are heavily involved in each other’s lives, while others remain relatively independent.

However, you have no legal right to control your spouse or their actions. You each have the right to make your own decisions, to freely come and go, and to be your own person. This is sometimes called “individual autonomy.”

Individual autonomy is highly respected in Canada. This is true whether a person is married or not. This means one spouse is not allowed to control the actions of the other. For example, your spouse cannot forbid you to leave the house or keep your identification or travel documents from you.

Family Violence

If your spouse is trying to control you, that could be a form of family violence. For more information, see the Partner Abuse Information Page.

Rights related to sex

The law says that marriage is a union between 2 people that is:

  • exclusive, which means that it includes just the 2 people, no one else; and
  • entered into freely, which means that both people consented to be spouses.

This means 2 things for sexual relations in marriage.

First, you have the right to expect your spouse to be faithful to you. A spouse who has sexual relations with someone else is committing “adultery,” which is one of the legal reasons that a person can ask for a divorce (called the “grounds for divorce”).

Second, you cannot force your spouse to have sex with you simply because you are married. Being married does not give you the right to your spouse’s body. You do not have a right to sex whenever you want it. Both spouses must agree to any sexual acts—every time. The consent must be a clear “yes” even if it is not spoken in words.

Family Violence

Sex without consent between married spouses is called marital rape. It is one type of domestic violence or spousal abuse. For more information, see the Partner Abuse Information Page.

For more information about consent and marital rape, see the following resources.

Web Canadian law only changed 26 years ago
The Globe and Mail
English

Web I Do, But I Don't Have To: Marital Rape
The Trauma & Mental Health Report
English


Web Can He Rape Me if We're Married?
domesticshelters.org
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web He's Forcing Me to Get Pregnant
domesticshelters.org
English

Rights related to property ownership

Hollywood movies often give us the idea that once a person is married, their spouse automatically owns half of everything. This is not completely true.

When you are married, you can each have property that is your own. That is, it can be in your own name and you may be able to deal with it on your own. (An exception to this is the “family home.” See “Dower rights and the matrimonial home” in this section below.)

However, you may choose to hold some property “jointly” with your spouse. For example, you may want to have a joint bank account. There are specific legal rights that are part of joint property. Understanding these rights can help you make wise decisions about this. For more information, see the section below called “How getting married can affect your finances and property.”

Often the issue of property ownership does not become a concern unless the relationship ends. If you separate, ownership can become a question in the division of property. In this case, the general rule is that each spouse is entitled to half of the property they got while they were married. This is known as “matrimonial property.” Generally, the property you owned before you got married remains yours. However, there are exceptions and circumstances that can affect this starting point. Division of property can become very complicated.

Because of this, sometimes it can be helpful to understand about matrimonial property as you plan for your property together. For information about how the law treats the division of property when a marriage ends, see the Property Division for Married Spouses Information Page.

Be Aware

The rules about property rights related to land and homes for married couples who live on-reserve are somewhat different. These rules are set out in the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (FHRMIRA). This law provides property rights during the relationship, upon relationship breakdown, and upon the death of one of the spouses. For more information, see the “Aboriginal matters and on-reserve considerations” section below.

Dower rights and the matrimonial home

The term “matrimonial home” (also called the “homestead”) refers to the place where the couple lives together during their marriage. It can include a certain amount of land and household contents.

The term “dower rights” refers to specific rights to the matrimonial home that are given to both spouses, even if only one spouse owns the property. Dower rights are unique to married couples. Unmarried couples do not have this benefit. These rights come from Alberta’s Dower Act.

Be Aware

Not all provinces have dower rights. If you move to another province or territory and buy a home, you may not have similar rights there.

One purpose of dower rights is to prevent one spouse from acting on the matrimonial home without the consent of the other. For example, the matrimonial home may be owned by only one spouse. That is, only one person’s name is on the land title. Because of dower rights, the “owning” spouse cannot take out a mortgage on the matrimonial home without the other spouse’s consent.

Another purpose of dower rights is to give the spouse a secure place in the matrimonial home if the owning spouse dies without leaving a Will.

Your dower rights include the following.

  • While your spouse is alive, the matrimonial home may not be sold, given away, left to someone else in a Will, or rented for a period of more than 3 years without your consent.
  • If the property in which you have dower rights was transferred by your spouse to someone else without a court order or your consent, you could sue your spouse for damages.
  • If your spouse dies, you have the right to live in the home for the rest of your life. However, you may not sell it unless the deceased spouse left the house to you in a Will.
  • Your deceased spouse may have owned more than one home and you both lived in all of the homes during the marriage. In this case, you would have to choose one house for which to claim the dower right (that is, the right to live in that house for the rest of your life).
Be Aware

Dower rights do not apply to a property that is co-owned by one of the spouses and another person(s). For example, if Alex and Taylor are married and live in a house owned by Taylor and Taylor’s sister, then Alex would not have any dower rights to this house.

If you separate or divorce, part of the settlement of matrimonial property will likely include the release of your dower rights. Dower rights can also be lost if the Court allows your spouse to sell or give away the family home without your consent. The Court would only make such an order if it was considered it fair and reasonable in the circumstances.

For more information on dower rights, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Rights to your home under the Dower Act
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Matrimonial Property
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “Dower Rights.”

Web Real Estate – General Information FAQs
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “What are dower rights?”

Web A Quick Review of Dower Rights in Alberta
Kirk Montoute LLP
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Dower
The Canadian Encyclopedia
English

Rights related to testifying in court: “Spousal privilege”

In most criminal cases in the past, one spouse could not be forced to testify against the other in court. This was called “spousal immunity,” and it is no longer the law.

Now, the prosecution can compel a legally married spouse to come to court and testify. However, if you are forced to testify against your spouse, you have the right to not answer any questions about communications that took place during your marriage. This is called spousal privilege. Spousal privilege is unique to married couples. Unmarried couples do not enjoy this benefit.

Spousal privilege only applies to communication, not observations. Here is an example of the difference:

  • You could be asked, “Did your spouse come home on Tuesday covered in blood?” This asks about an observation. You would have to answer truthfully.
  • However, you could be asked, “What did your spouse say to you after coming home on Tuesday?” This question is about communication. You could refuse to answer this question by claiming your spousal privilege.

Spousal privilege is the right of the testifying spouse, not the right of the spouse accused of committing a crime. This means there is nothing stopping you from giving evidence as a witness if you want to. You can waive your privilege and choose to speak freely about the communications you have had with your spouse that pertain to the case. The accused spouse cannot prevent you from doing this.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Spousal Compellability and Privilege: Can you be forced to testify against your spouse?
Avant law
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What is Spousal Privilege?
wiseGEEK
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Right to share the responsibility for children

Generally, under Alberta law, parents are guardians of the their children. Being a guardian of a child means you have many rights and responsibilities, such as making sure your child has the necessaries of life, deciding where your child will go to school, and deciding on your child’s cultural and religious upbringing.

When a child has more than one guardian, decisions about the child must be made jointly (unless a legal agreement or court decision says otherwise). This means that a married couple will have to make these decisions for their children together. One guardian cannot shut out the other guardian from the decision-making process.

Also, one guardian cannot take the children out of Canada for any purpose without the consent of the other guardian(s). This is true even if the parents are happily married. If you want to take a child out of Canada, and that child has another guardian, you must get a consent letter from that guardian.

A sample letter of consent is in the following resource.



Even if the guardians separate, the responsibility for children usually remains shared. This only changes if the guardians agree to other arrangements, or a court makes an order stating otherwise. One of the major issues in a separation is deciding what the parenting arrangements will be.

To learn more about guardianship of a child and the rights of children, see the following Information Pages:

Right to financial support during the marriage

Spouses are required to financially support each other. Sometimes one spouse does not give enough support to the other. For example, if a healthy spouse is not properly supporting a sick spouse. In this case, the spouse who is not getting adequate support can apply for a support order under Alberta’s Family Law Act. “Support” includes food, clothing, medical aid, and lodging. If one spouse is able to provide these things that are needed, but has refused or neglected to provide them, the Court may grant a support order.

For information about how to apply in court for a support order, see the Process tab of this Information Page.

Right to “the necessaries of life”

The Criminal Code of Canada is a federal law that lists and describes most crimes and criminal procedures in Canada. According to the Criminal Code, everyone has a duty to provide the “necessaries of life” to:

  • their children who are under 16 years old; and
  • their spouse or common-law partner.

It is a crime to fail in this duty. Your spouse would fail in this duty:

  • if they did not provide the necessaries of life when you were in need; or
  • if they put your life or health at risk by not providing the necessaries of life.

Necessaries of life” are things that a person needs to maintain their condition of life, such as food, clothing, shelter, or medical attention when needed. Necessaries of life includes what a person needs to stay alive, such as food and water. But it also goes beyond these basic needs. What is considered to be “necessaries of life” depends on the circumstances of the people involved.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Neglect can lead to criminal charges
The Western Producer
English

Web Necessaries of Life Definition
Duhaime.org
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

The punishment for not providing the necessaries of life can be serious. A person can go to prison for up to 5 years if they are found guilty.

Rights related to decision-making when dealing with illness

There is NO automatic right to make decisions

When a person loses the ability to make their own decisions (in other words, they lose “capacity”), someone else must step in and make decisions for them. This is called “substitute decision-making.”

Many married people believe that one spouse will automatically get substitute decision-making power if the other loses capacity. This belief is wrong. If a person becomes unable to make their own decisions, Alberta law does not provide any automatic substitute decision-making powers.

Instead, Alberta law first looks to what the person has planned. To plan for a time when you will no longer be able to make decisions for yourself, there are 2 different legal documents that are required:

  1. a Power of Attorney, which is for financial decisions; and
  2. a Personal Directive, which is for all other decisions.

When you are married, it is important to create these documents, and to review them as your needs change. For detailed information about making these documents, see the Planning for Illness Information Page.

For some emergency decisions you have spousal “priority”

If the person did not plan anything, Alberta’s Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act (AGTA) says that someone must go to court and ask the judge to appoint a decision-maker.

  • The person appointed to make personal decisions (including decisions about health care) is called the “Guardian.”
  • The person appointed to make financial decisions is called the “Trustee.”

A spouse does not automatically get decision-making power as the Guardian or Trustee.

However, sometimes there may be a need to make time-sensitive decisions before a decision-maker has been appointed. This is known as “specific decision making.” For such cases, the AGTA lists an order of preference as to who should make the decision. The spouse of the person who has lost capacity is the first choice (as long as they meet the conditions required by the AGTA). If you are unable or unwilling to take on the job, the priority moves to the next available person, in the order listed in the law.

Specific decision-making is restricted to decisions about:

  • health care; and
  • temporary admission or discharge from a residential facility.

For more information, see the “Specific decision-making” section of the Caring for & Decision-Making for a Family Member Information Page.

Rights related to decision-making when dealing with death

There is NO automatic right to make decisions

When a person dies, there are many decisions to make.

  • Some are quite immediate, such as dealing with the body and whether to have a funeral.
  • Some are more long term, such as managing the person’s affairs and dealing with their estate.

Many married people believe that one spouse will automatically get this decision-making power when the other dies. This belief is wrong. Alberta law does not provide any such automatic decision-making power.

Instead, Alberta law first looks to what the person has planned. To plan for death, a person can make a Will, which names a Personal Representative. Unless a court has a reason to order otherwise, this Personal Representative has the responsibility to make the post-death decisions and deal with the estate. The Personal Representative does not have to be the spouse.

When you are married, it is important to make a Will, and to review it as your needs change. For more information about planning for death and making a Will, see the Planning for Death Information Page.
 

You do have spousal “priority”

Sometimes the person has died without making a Will. This is called dying “intestate.” Or, their Will has not yet been found at the time the immediate decisions need to be made, and it is unclear who should make these decisions. The spouse does not automatically get to start making decisions about the body or the estate.

There are 2 different laws that set out who gets to make decisions in these situations.

  • The General Regulation to the Funeral Services Act says who has responsibility to decide what happens to the deceased’s remains. This includes decisions about final ceremonies.
  • The Alberta Wills and Succession Act sets out how a person’s affairs will be handled if they die intestate (without a Will). Under this law, someone with an interest in the estate will have to apply for a “grant of administration” from the Court to be given the job of managing the estate. This job is called being the Personal Representative. How the Personal Representative applies for this job is set out in the Surrogate Rules.

Both the General Regulation to the Funeral Services Act and the Surrogate Rules set out an order of preference for who should take on the jobs. The spouse of the person who has died is the first choice. This does not mean that you have to take on the job. If you are either unable or unwilling to take on the job in question, the priority moves to the next available person, in the order listed in the law. Also, it does not mean that you will necessarily get appointed as the Personal Representative. For example, perhaps another family member can show why they would be a better choice.

For more information on making decisions after a death, see the Dealing with a Death in the Family Information Page.

Rights related to inheritance

If there is a Will

In general, a Testator (person who makes a Will) can leave their property to whomever they want. So, you will not necessarily inherit everything when your spouse dies. Simply being married does not entitle you to a certain inheritance. In fact, your spouse does not have to leave you anything at all.

However, if you are dependent on your spouse, then the Will must provide you with proper maintenance and support. If it does not, the Alberta Wills and Succession Act allows you to apply to the Court to change the Will.

In the Will, a person is named as the Personal Representative (PR) to manage the estate. If you are not the PR, the person who is must notify you of the death of the Testator and what (if anything) the Testator has left you in the Will. Then you will know if you need to apply for maintenance and support.

The PR must also notify any spouse with a potential claim under Alberta’s Matrimonial Property Act. In other words, if you and your spouse were separated or divorced, and the matrimonial property issues have not been settled, the PR must provide you notice. You will have a certain amount of time to deal with these property issues after the death.

For more information about how the estate is managed if there is a Will, and applying for maintenance and support, see the Dealing with a Death in the Family Information Page.
 

If there is no Will

Many married people assume that if they die without a Will (also called dying “intestate”), their spouse will simply get everything. This is not always the case. When there is no Will, the deceased’s affairs are handled according to the rules of the Alberta Wills and Succession Act. It does not matter what the deceased may have said to anyone.

The law entitles the surviving spouse to a share of the deceased’s estate. How much you will receive depends on such things as:

  • the size of the estate;
  • whether you and your spouse had children;
  • whether your spouse has any children from another relationship; and
  • if you are separated, whether your spouse also has an Adult Interdependent Partner.

If the share of the estate you receive under the law is inadequate, you can apply to the Court for proper maintenance and support from the estate.

For more information about how the estate is managed if there is no Will, and applying for maintenance and support, see the Dealing with a Death in the Family Information Page.

More information

For more information about what a marriage is and what it involves, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Marriage as Legal Relationship
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Marriage
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Mariage et relation adulte interdépendante
L'Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta
French

PDF La vie de couple en Alberta
L'Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Alberta
French
How getting married can affect your finances and property

Combining 2 lives into one can be challenging, especially when it comes to money. Even spouses who mostly keep their finances separate will come up against financial issues at some point in their marriage. Things to consider include:

  • Preparing to deal with finances together
  • Understanding joint ownership and debt
  • Understanding “single name” ownership and debt
  • Planning your finances as a couple
  • Understanding “Designation of Beneficiary” forms
  • Contributions to RRSPs and TFSAs
  • Property rights if you live on-reserve

Preparing to deal with finances together

Money can be an awkward conversation to have as a couple. No one likes to ruin the romance by talking about dollars and cents. However, talking about finances early on can be very helpful in the long run. This is especially true if you are planning to get married. Make sure you both have a clear picture of each other’s financial circumstances before making any big decisions. For example, if one person has a lot of debts and the other person goes into the marriage without knowing that, it could lead to tension in the future.

Here are some examples of what you may want to share with each other:

  • information about assets and debts;
  • credit history;
  • financial priorities (for example: do you want to pay off all your debts first or buy a house the first chance you get?);
  • financial personality (for example: are you good at budgeting?);
  • financial roles (for example: how do you expect to divide your expenses? How will decisions about major purchases be made?);
  • monthly income and expenses; and
  • current financial arrangements and future financial goals.

For more information about planning and managing your finances as a married couple, the following resources.

Web Living as a couple
Government of Canada
English

Web Vivre en couple
Government of Canada
French

PDF Couples and Money
Money Mentors
English

Web How To Not Suck… At Merging Your Money When You Marry
Consumer Media LLC
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Marrying or moving in?
Canadian Bar Association
English

PDF Mariage et vie commune
Canadian Bar Association
French

Understanding “joint” ownership and debt

One of the biggest changes that may come up when people get married is doing things “jointly.” For example, having a joint bank account or owning a car together. This can have serious legal consequences. You don’t have to do things jointly simply because you are married, but a lot of married couples choose to do things jointly. As you and your spouse decide whether to conduct your affairs jointly or separately, it can be helpful to consider the benefits and drawbacks of both options.

Joint bank accounts

When couples get married, they often open a joint bank account. Sometimes, this new joint account is only for joint expenses such as rent and utility bills, and each spouse also keeps their own personal accounts. However, sometimes each spouse closes their personal accounts and the couple only has the joint account. In this case, all income (such as each person’s paycheque) goes into the joint account and all expenses come out of it.

Although joint bank accounts are handy, they can also be dangerous. Joint bank accounts are bank accounts that belong to 2 or more people. These people are called “joint tenants.” Under joint tenancy, all of the joint tenants own all of the money in the bank account (not just their “share”). If you and your spouse decide to open a joint bank account, you will both own all of the money in that account. This means that, at any time, one of you could go to the bank and take out all of the money. As a joint tenant, you (or your spouse) would be legally allowed to do this.

If one of the joint tenants dies, the other joint tenant becomes the sole owner of the property. The property would not pass through the deceased’s Will, even if they wanted it to.

When joint tenants separate, joint accounts are usually divided equally. You may have been the one who put all the money in the joint account. But if you later separate, your former spouse can insist on getting half of the balance of the account.

For more information about joint accounts, see the following resources.

Web Joint or Separate Accounts? That is the Question
Young and Thrifty
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common?
Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Joint Accounts and Survivorship Rights
Advisor Group
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web The Trouble With Joint Bank Accounts
Huffington Post Canada
English



Web Joint accounts
Government of Canada
English

French resources:



Web Compte conjoint
Government of Canada
French

 

Other joint assets

Joint ownership does not only apply to bank accounts. It can apply to any asset. For example: a home or a car.

Tip

When you purchase something together, you may want to keep the receipts and documents in a safe place. Then, if necessary, you will have proof that it was jointly purchased.

If you jointly purchase an asset with another person:

  • you both own all of it;
  • either of you can sell it at any time (without even telling the other owner);
  • if one of you dies, the other automatically gets it; and
  • if you separate, it will likely be divided equally (even if both owners did not equally contribute to buying it).

The situation is similar if you buy a house or condo together. However, with a jointly owned house or condo, your spouse cannot sell it without your knowledge.

Joint debts

You and your spouse can also have joint debts Any debt with your name on it is your responsibility to pay. And that can mean to pay all of it.

For example:

  • Alex and Taylor took out a loan together to buy a car.
  • They separate before the loan is paid off.
  • They decide that Alex will keep the car. Taylor trusts that Alex will make the remaining car payments.
  • Alex moves away and stops making the car payments. Because the loan company cannot find Alex, they come after Taylor for the amount left on the loan. They can do this because Taylor’s name is still on the loan even though Taylor does not have the car.

The same is true of:

  • joint credit cards (like Visa and Mastercard);
  • joint store credit cards (like Sears or the Bay);
  • joint lines of credit; and
  • joint “buy-now-pay-later” loans (for example: financing furniture or electronics).

If your name is on it, you can be held responsible for paying for all of it.

For more information, see the following resources.

PDF Know your responsibilities as a joint borrower
Government of Canada
English


Web Do's and don'ts of joint credit
CreditCards.com Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

PDF Dealing with credit
Government of Alberta
English
See p. 3.

PDF What Creditors Can Do If You Don't Pay
Government of Alberta
English

Sharing debt as a co-signer or a guarantor

Another way that you could be “jointly” responsible for a debt is by co-signing or guaranteeing a loan.

When a person “co-signs” a loan for a person who is borrowing money (a “borrower”), it means that they are agreeing to be as responsible for the loan as the borrower is.

When a person “guarantees” a loan for a borrower, it means that they are agreeing to pay back the loan if the borrower does not pay off the loan as planned.

Both co-signing and guaranteeing involve becoming legally responsible for someone else’s loan if they are not able to pay. The difference is when you can become responsible.

  • If you co-sign for a loan, you agree to be as responsible for the loan as the borrower. This means that the lender can go to you for repayment at the same time as they go to the borrower, or even before going to the borrower.
  • If you guarantee a loan, you agree to pay off the rest of the loan if the borrower is unable or unwilling to. This means that the lender must try to get payment from the borrower before coming to you for payment.

For example:

  • Alex wants to take out a loan for $30,000. The bank is not confident that Alex will be able to make the payments. They ask Alex to get someone to guarantee the loan.
  • Taylor agrees to be the guarantor.
  • For a year all goes well and Alex makes regular payments. Then Alex has some problems with his business. Unknown to Taylor, Alex misses 2 loan payments.
  • The bank declares that Alex has broken the loan agreement. The loan is in default.
  • Taylor has guaranteed the loan. Therefore, they demand that Taylor pay them the full $15,000 that is still owed on the loan.

For more information on being a co-signer or guarantor, see the following resource and the Financial Issues between Family Members Information Page.

Web Credit
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English
See “What If I Am Asked to Co-Sign A Loan?”

 

Joint names on rental agreements and bills

When you get married, you may:

  • sign a joint rental agreement for your home; or
  • have both of your names on your utility bills (such as heating, electricity, water, telephone, cable, or internet).

If your name is on it, you are responsible for paying it. This often surprises people when they separate and move out of the joint home. They think they will be free from these expenses. This can be an extra problem for rental agreements, because you can be held responsible for the actions of your former spouse (such as damage to the home).

For more information about the laws that may affect you as a tenant, see the following resources.

PDF Renting in Alberta: Legal Information for Frontline Service Providers
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Renting 101: A Guide to Renting in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

PDF Renting Basics: Easy read guide to renting in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Laws for Landlords & Tenants in Alberta
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Landlord and Tenant Law
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

PDF Information for Tenants
Government of Alberta
English

Web Condo Law for Albertans
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

 

Tenancy in common

In addition to “joint tenancy,” there is a second way of owning something with someone else: “tenancy in common.” If you own an asset with another person as “tenants in common,” you each own half of it. If one of you dies, that person’s half does not automatically go to the other owner. Instead, that half goes through the Will of the deceased.

For more information, see the following resources and the Financial Issues between Family Members Information Page.

id='90536'This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.[/resource

Web Joint Tenants or Tenants in Common?
Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web Shared Ownership of Property
Seniors First BC
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Web What happens when a tenant-in-common dies?
Estate Law Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Understanding “single name” ownership and debt

There can be advantages to having some assets under the single ownership of one spouse. And, there can be major disadvantages to having everything in one spouse’s name. A few examples are given below.

Having things in your own name can help build your credit rating.

By regularly paying bills as they come due, you show that you can handle small amounts of credit. This is necessary if you ever need to qualify for larger amounts of credit. However, if you have only owned things jointly with your spouse, there is no record that you can manage payments on your own. You will not have a credit rating. This could be a problem if your spouse dies, or if you separate from your spouse in the future. You may not qualify if you need to get a loan or a credit card.

Owning property in your own name means that you are free to deal with it as you please.

You can give it away, sell it, or use it for collateral on a loan without needing permission from your spouse. With joint property you would usually only act with the consent of your spouse. Although legally you can sometimes act on your own with joint property (for example, with joint bank accounts), it could cause a lot of conflict with your spouse if you do.

Be Aware

Even if your name is the only one on the title of the family home (also called the matrimonial home), you cannot deal with it on your own. This is because your spouse has dower rights. For more information, see the “Being married: Legal rights and responsibilities” section above.

By having bank accounts, property, or investments in your own name, you will keep up your money management skills.

This can be important if you ever end up on your own because your spouse dies or your relationship ends.

You are responsible for purchases made on your credit card account. This includes purchases made by your spouse using a secondary card.

You may have a credit card account that is in your name, but your spouse is listed as an “authorized user” or “secondary cardholder.” This means there are 2 actual cards for the account. Your spouse uses the second card. As the “primary cardholder,” you are responsible for all of the purchases made on the second card, even if they were not made by you. However, you also have the right to cancel that card if you need to. For example:

  • if your spouse overspends on the card;
  • if your spouse makes purchases that you do not agree with; or
  • if the relationship ends.
Remember

A debt that is only in your name is your sole responsibility.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Joint credit cards
Government of Canada
English

Web Carte de crédit conjointe
Government of Canada
French

Web Avoiding authorized user nightmares
CreditCards.com Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Should You Have a Joint Credit Card or an Authorized User?
Macmillan Holdings, LLC
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web 5 ways credit can complicate your relationship
CreditCards.com Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web 7 myths about joint credit cards
CreditCards.com Canada
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Planning your finances as a couple

Given all of the above, it is important that you carefully consider how you set up the bank accounts and other finances when you get married. For example:

  • Do you want to keep your finances separate after you get married, or do you want to pool your resources together?
  • Will you be splitting joint expenses, or will you spend one person’s income and save the other person’s income?

There is no single solution that works for everyone. Together you must decide what works best for your marriage, and remain aware that you each need to protect yourself as well.

Be Aware

It is important to understand how your property (joint and non-joint) will be treated under the law if you later separate. When you are married, the starting position for property division is that all the property and debt that was acquired during the time of the marriage should be split equally (no matter whose name it is in). It can be helpful to understand how this works as you plan for your property together. For information about how the law treats the division of property for married couples, see the Property Division for Married Spouses Information Page.

For more information about planning your finances as a couple, see the following resources.

PDF Couples and Money
Money Mentors
English

Web Living as a couple
Government of Canada
English

Web Vivre en couple
Government of Canada
French

Understanding “Designation of Beneficiary” forms

When a person dies, much of what they own goes into their estate to be dealt with in their Will. But there are certain types of things that do not pass through the Will. Instead, they go directly to a specific person. This includes assets and policies that are left to someone (called the “beneficiary”) because that person is named on a “Designation of Beneficiary” form.

When you buy or set up certain financial benefits, you are asked to choose who will get the money if you die. This person is called the “beneficiary.” You name the person by filling out a “Designation of Beneficiary” form. Some examples include:

  • life insurance;
  • Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs); and
  • Tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs).

You may or may not want to name your spouse as a beneficiary on a Designation of Beneficiary form. This is something to think about when you move in together. You can also reconsider it as your relationship changes.

Pension plans may also use a Designation of Beneficiary form. However, the beneficiary may be automatic instead. This can happen if the plan defines a “pension partner.” For example: the plan may say that your spouse or your Adult Interdependent Partner is your pension partner. A pension partner will get the death benefits from the plan. They may also be entitled to a share of your pension if you separate. For more information, contact the administrator of your pension plan.

Be Aware

Many people name their spouses on Designation of Beneficiary forms. A separation or divorce does not affect these Designation of Beneficiary forms. If you separate, you will probably want to sign new forms naming a different beneficiary. Otherwise, your ex-spouse will get the death benefit.

For more information about Designation of Beneficiary forms, see the following resources.

Web The Importance of Beneficiary Designations
Advisor Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Beneficiary Designations: Why, when and how?
Manulife Financial
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
 
Web Designated beneficiaries
Government of Canada
English

PDF Understanding Insurance Basics
Government of Canada
English

Web Module 6. Insurance
Government of Canada
English



French resources:

Web Bénéficiaires désignés
Government of Canada
French

PDF Mieux comprendre les assurances
Government of Canada
French

Web Module 6. Assurances
Government of Canada
French

Contributing to your spouse’s Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSP)

You are able to contribute to your spouse’s RRSP as if it was your own. However, the contributions you make will reduce your own RRSP deduction limit. Also, if your spouse withdraws the contributions you made within 3 years of you making the contribution, then the amount that was withdrawn will be added to your taxable income in the given year.

To learn more about contributing to your spouse’s RRSP, see the following resources.

Web Spouse and common-law partner
Government of Canada
English
See “Contributing to your spouse's or common-law partner's RRSPs.”

Web Époux ou conjoint de fait
Government of Canada
French
Voir : “Cotiser à un REER au profit d'un époux ou conjoint de fait.”

 

“Contributing” to your spouse’s tax-free savings account (TFSA)

Many people use TFSAs to help with their financial planning, as the growth of money in those accounts is tax-free. Although you cannot directly contribute to your spouse’s TFSA as you can with their RRSP, you are allowed to give your spouse money to contribute to their own TFSA.

To learn more about “contributing” to your spouse’s TFSA, see the following resources.

Web Frequently Asked Questions: TFSAs
TD Bank Group
English
See “Can I make spousal contributions to my spouse’s TFSA?”

Property rights if you live on-reserve

For most of the issues above, being Aboriginal does not change anything. The same laws apply.

However, if you live on-reserve there can be major differences. The rules about the property rights of married couples who live on-reserve are set out in the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (FHRMIRA). This law provides property rights during the relationship, upon relationship breakdown, and upon the death of one of the spouses.

For more information, see the “Aboriginal matters and on-reserve considerations” section below.

How getting married can affect your benefits and taxes

After you get married, the federal tax that you pay on your financials (such as your income and investments) can be different. Also, you may be eligible for some other benefits.

You must update your marital status with the Canada Revenue Agency

Once you are married, you must update your marital status with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) no later than the end of the month following the month when your status changed. So, if you are getting married in March, you must notify the CRA by April 30 of that same year. If you plan to change your name once you are married, you must also update your name at the CRA.

The CRA will recalculate your benefits based on:

  • the number of children in the household and their ages;
  • which province you live in; and
  • your new net family income.

Depending on your situation, there are different tax credits and tax cuts that you might be able to use.

Below are a few more examples of how being being married affects your federal responsibilities and benefits.

The “Spousal Credit” on your income tax return

When one spouse is making little or no income, the other spouse may be able to claim a spousal credit.

Here is how it works: every year there is a base amount that is income tax-free. This is called the “basic personal amount.” For example, for the 2014 tax year that amount was $11,327. If your spouse made less than that in 2014 (for example: if he or she was a student), you could double your tax-free income for that year (to $22,654) by claiming the spousal credit.

In addition, and staying with this example, the student spouse can claim all student-related tax credits and transfer any unused credits to their spouse.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Line 303 - Spouse or common-law partner amount
Government of Canada
English



Goods and Services Tax (GST) Credit

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Credit is a tax-free quarterly payment that helps “refund” individuals and families with low incomes for all or part of the GST that they pay.

As a single person, you may have qualified for the quarterly rebate of GST, but once you are married, chances are that you no longer will. This is because the government will calculate the credit based on your combined income.

Or, perhaps you did not qualify as a single person, but would now qualify as a couple (for example: if your spouse has very low income). If you do qualify as a couple, only one person can receive the credit. You can choose who receives it.

For more information, see the following resource.


Combining medical expenses and charitable donations on your income tax return

For medical expenses, you get a credit when the total bill for eligible medical expenses is higher than 3% of your personal net income or a set amount (whichever is less). In cases where a couple’s combined medical expenses are high, the spouse with lower income can claim the medical expenses tax credit for both spouses to maximize the financial benefit.

For charitable donations, you are entitled to a 15% credit on the first $200 you donate, and a 29% credit for every dollar over $200. By combining your donations you can reach the $200 threshold faster.

Be Aware

The above example used numbers from the 2015 tax year. These numbers may change from time to time.

For more information and current rates, see the following resources.



Web Claiming charitable tax credits
Government of Canada
English

Tax advantages if you are married with children

Married parents are entitled to many tax benefits, credits, and deductions. You can assign these tax benefits, credits, and deductions to the parent with the higher income to maximize the financial benefit. For more information, see the “Parenting and taxes” section of the Having a Child Information Page.

Canada Pension Plan (CPP)

As a married couple, there are many ways you can enhance your Canada Pension Plan (CPP). Below are some examples.

Pension sharing (also called “income assignment”)

The Canada Pension Plan allows a married person to assign a portion of their retirement pension to their spouse. If your spouse is in a lower tax bracket than you, assigning this income to them will lower the total family tax bill. However, if only one of you receives a retirement pension, you can only do this if the other spouse has reached 60 years of age and is not a contributor to the CPP.

Web Pension Sharing
Government of Canada
English

Web Partage des pensions
Government of Canada
French

 

Death benefits

When a married person contributes to the CPP, their spouse may qualify for certain benefits if that person dies. For more information, see the following resources.

Web Dealing with Death
Government of Canada
English

Web Allowance for the Survivor
Government of Canada
English

Web Allocation au survivant
Government of Canada
French

Old Age Security (OAS) and Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS)

Old Age Security (OAS) is a pension program of the Government of Canada. It includes the Old Age Security pension and 3 types of OAS benefits payable to most seniors age 65 and over (this is scheduled to change to age 67 by 2023), who meet the Canadian residence requirements.

The OAS Pension

You can receive the OAS pension even if you have never worked or are still working. The amount of your OAS pension will be determined by how long you have lived in Canada after the age of 18. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Old Age Security - Overview
Government of Canada
English


 

The OAS “Guaranteed Income Supplement”

If you meet the residency requirements and you have a low income, this monthly non-taxable benefit can be added to your OAS pension. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Guaranteed Income Supplement - Overview
Government of Canada
English

Web Supplément de revenu garanti – Aperçu
Government of Canada
French

 

The OAS “Allowance”

If you are 60 to 64 years of age and your spouse or common-law partner is receiving the Old Age Security pension and is eligible for the Guaranteed Income Supplement, you might be eligible to receive this benefit as well. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Allowance for people aged 60 to 64 - Overview
Government of Canada
English


 

The OAS “Allowance for the Survivor”

If you are 60 to 64 years of age and your spouse or common-law partner has died, you might be eligible to receive this benefit. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Allowance for the Survivor
Government of Canada
English

Web Allocation au survivant
Government of Canada
French

Employment Insurance (EI)

Married people may have benefits under Employment Insurance (EI). An example is the “compassionate care benefits.” EI compassionate care benefits are paid to people who have to be away from work temporarily to care for or support a family member who is seriously ill and who has a significant risk of death within 26 weeks (6 months). The family member who is ill could be your spouse, one of your own relatives, or a relative of your spouse.

For more information, see the following resources.

Web Employment Insurance Compassionate Care Benefits
Government of Canada
English

Web In difficult times: Compassionate care benefits
Government of Canada
English

Web Assurance-emploi et prestations de compassion
Government of Canada
French

More information

For more information about how being married affects your tax benefits and obligations, see the following resources.

Web Spouse and common-law partner
Government of Canada
English

Web Couples and taxes
Government of Canada
English

Web Insurance for couples
Government of Canada
English

Web Married vs. Common Law – What’s the Difference Anyway?
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English


Audio/Web Marriage as Legal Relationship
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Health Care Insurance Plan
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

French resources:

Web Époux ou conjoint de fait
Government of Canada
French

Web Les couples et l'impôt
Government of Canada
French

Web Besoins d'assurance pour les couples
Government of Canada
French
How getting married may affect your property if you later separate or divorce

If a couple separates, one of the major issues they will face is dividing their property. Understanding how this works may affect the decisions you make about your property during your relationship.

The Matrimonial Property Act

For married couples, property division is governed by the Matrimonial Property Act (MPA). The MPA classifies property into different categories. Each category of property is treated differently.

Some property does not have to be divided. This is called exempt property. This property (or its value) is seen as having always belonged to only one of the spouses. Therefore, unless something happened to turn that property into “shareable property” (see below), it should still belong to that same spouse. Some examples are:

  • property individually owned by either spouse before the marriage; and
  • property that was received by one spouse after the marriage as a gift from a third party.

Some property is called shareable property. It is to be divided fairly, but not necessarily equally. Some examples are:

  • the increase in value of exempt property during the marriage; and
  • property bought using income received from exempt property.

When a property does not fall into the 2 categories above, it is considered matrimonial property. This category includes all property and debts acquired by the spouses (either jointly or individually) during the marriage. The starting point of the MPA is that the matrimonial property will be shared equally (50/50) when the marriage breaks down. However, if the spouses have valid reasons why this property should not be divided equally, the Court will consider the possibility of unequal division.

For more information about the MPA, see the Property Division for Married Spouses Information Page.

Be Aware

The MPA sets out the default rules for property division for married couples. However, you and your spouse can have your own agreement regarding property that is different from the MPA. This is often called “contracting out” of the MPA. To contract out of the of the MPA, you and your spouse must receive independent legal advice. For more information about contracting out of the MPA, see the Pre-nuptial & Marriage Agreements Information Page.

Joint ownership of property

Joint property is a special legal concept in which all of the joint tenants owning all of the property (not just their “share.”) This can have serious legal consequences. For more information, see the “How getting married can affect your finances and property” section above.

Joint property acquired by the spouses during the marriage will be part of the “matrimonial property” under the MPA as described above.

Be Aware

In most cases, owning an asset “jointly” with someone else will mean that either owner can sell the asset without the consent of the other owner. (This is not true for “real property,” such as land or a home.) This means that if you decide to separate, it may be important to take steps to protect your joint assets or prevent the increase of joint debts. For more information about protecting property, see the Property Division for Married Spouses Information Page.

Pets are property

For many people, pets are members of their family. However, the law views pets as property. Once you get married, your pet will fall into one of the 3 categories of property described in the MPA (above). As such, a pet can be part of the division of property on separation.

Even so, pets are not always treated in the same way as other property. After all, not many separating couples share the care of the TV or the couch. Judges have even been known to grant orders that former spouses share the care of their pets.

Given the unique nature of pets, it can be better for everyone if the issues can be resolved by agreement (perhaps before the marriage breaks down). Without a court involved, the spouses can get much more creative with solutions, as they are not bound by the rules that say that pets are property.

For more information, see the “Pets” section of the Property Division for Married Spouses Information Page.

Dower rights and the matrimonial home

The term “matrimonial home” (also called the “homestead”) refers to the place where the couple lives together during their marriage. It can include a certain amount of land and household contents.

The term “dower rights” refers to specific rights to the matrimonial home that are given to both spouses, even if only one spouse owns the property. Dower rights are unique to married couples. Unmarried couples do not have this benefit. These rights come from Alberta’s Dower Act.

In general, dower rights are intended to protect spouses from:

  • the sale of the home without their consent; or
  • the loss of their home on the death of their spouse.

In a separation or divorce, the settlement of property issues will often involve dealing with the dower rights.

For more information about dower rights, see the “Being married: Legal rights and responsibilities” section above.

Designated Beneficiaries

You may have property for which you have to choose a “beneficiary.” This means that it will pass it directly to a specific person on your death. You will have named that person on a “Designation of Beneficiary” form. Some examples of this type of property include: life insurance, pension plans, Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), and tax-free savings accounts (TFSAs).

Many people name their spouses on their Designations of Beneficiaries forms.

Be Aware

A separation or divorce does not affect your Designation of Beneficiary forms. If you separate, you will probably want to sign new forms naming a different beneficiary. Otherwise, your former spouse will get the death benefit.

For more information on Designation of Beneficiary forms, see the “How getting married can affect your finances and property” section above.

If you live on-reserve

For most of the issues above, being Aboriginal does not change anything. The same law applies.

However, if you live on-reserve there can be major differences. The rules about the property rights of married couples who live on-reserve are set out in the Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (FHRMIRA). This law provides property rights during the relationship, upon relationship breakdown, and upon the death of one of the spouses.

The FHRMIRA rules apply to all married couples who live on reserve, even if one of the spouses:

  • is not Aboriginal;
  • does not have registered Indian Status with the Government of Canada; or
  • does not have status for that particular reserve.

For more information, see the “Aboriginal matters and on-reserve considerations” section below.

Planning ahead for illness and death

It is always a good idea to plan ahead for unexpected events that might happen in the future. This is true whether you are married or not. For example, if you are in a car accident and end up in a coma or die, who will make personal or financial decisions for you?

In these situations, Alberta law does not allow anybody to automatically take over decision-making—not even your spouse. Instead, Alberta law first looks to what you have planned. If you do not plan for events like this ahead of time, your loved ones will have to apply to the Court to be given permission to make your decisions for you. This costs time and money. It can also cause problems when family members cannot agree with one another about what is best to do. This is why planning ahead is so important.

For more information about what happens if you become incapacitated or die without planning ahead, see the “Being married: Legal rights and responsibilities” section above.

The 3 main legal documents that you can use to plan ahead for illness and death are:

  • a Personal Directive;
  • a Power of Attorney; and
  • a Will.

When you are married, it is important to create these documents, and to review them as your needs change.

Personal Directives

A Personal Directive is a document that gives another person the power to make your personal decisions if you ever become unable to make those decisions for yourself. Personal decisions include health-related decisions. In some places, this document is called a “Living Will,” but in Alberta the correct legal term is “Personal Directive.”

There are certain legal requirements when you create a Personal Directive. For more information, see the Planning for Illness Information Page.

Be Aware

If you were married in the past and signed a Personal Directive giving decision-making power to your former spouse, you may now want to sign a new Personal Directive to give the decision-making power to your new spouse. Your separation from your former spouse does not make the old Personal Directive invalid.

Powers of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a document that gives another person the power to make your financial decisions for you and to act on your behalf for your financial affairs. This can include paying bills, dealing with your money, and selling your property.

There are different kinds of Powers of Attorney:

  • An Immediate Power of Attorney takes effect immediately and ends at a specific date or after a certain decision has been made.
  • An Immediate and Enduring Power of Attorney takes effect immediately and continues if you become unable to make your own financial decisions.
  • An Enduring Power of Attorney (also called a “Springing Power of Attorney”) takes effect only when you become unable to make your own financial decisions.

In other words, a Power of Attorney is similar to the Personal Directive that is required for personal decisions. However, some kinds of Powers of Attorney can be used before incapacity. This is not possible with a Personal Directive.

A Power of Attorney does not cover personal or medical decisions. For that you need a Personal Directive. Personal Directives and Powers of Attorney are separate documents with different requirements: they cannot be combined.

There are certain legal requirements for making a Power of Attorney. For more information, see the Planning for Illness Information Page.

Be Aware

If you were married before and you signed a Power of Attorney giving decision-making power to your former spouse, you may now want to sign a new Power of Attorney to give the decision-making power to your new spouse. Your separation from your former spouse does not make the old Power of Attorney invalid.

Wills  

A Will is a document that says what will happen to your estate once you have died. Your “estate” includes most (or sometimes even all) of your property, including money, that is distributed by your Will.

In your Will you also name your Personal Representative This is the person who will be responsible for managing your estate after you die, including:

  • locating the assets;
  • paying debts and funeral costs; and
  • distributing the estate property to the beneficiaries.

There are many legal requirements when you create a Will, both in terms of how the Will was created and what you put in it. If you make a Will that does not follow the law, it can be struck down by a court.

Be Aware

Remarriage does not necessarily make your previous Will invalid. If you were married in the past and you signed a Will giving any of your estate to your former spouse, you may now want to sign a new one. It is a good idea to update your Will as soon as possible when your circumstances change.

For more detailed information on Wills and the legal requirements for creating one, see the Planning for Death Information Page.

Blended family considerations and remarriages

This section has information about:

  • What a “blended family” is
  • Legal considerations for blended families
  • Finalizing your divorce to get remarried
  • How remarriage affects estate planning
  • Changing your children’s names after remarriage
  • Adopting or becoming the guardian of your spouse’s children

What is a “blended family”?

When people remarry, they might form what is called a “blended family.” A blended family is a family that has children from previous relationships, and may even include children from the current relationship.

For example, if a person with 2 children from a previous relationship marries someone else who also has a child from their own previous relationship, they would create a “blended family” that includes step-parents and step-children. The new couple may also have children of their own, which means some of the children would be half-siblings.

Blended families and the law

In general, the law related to getting married and being married is no different for blended families than for any other families.

However, the legal concerns of blended families are generally more complicated. For example:

  • One or both spouses may have continuing responsibilities for child support and spousal support from their previous relationship.
  • Ongoing issues such as parenting arrangements may have an impact.
  • Deciding who will make which decisions about which children can be an issue.
  • There may be more complex issues related to property decisions, financial decisions, and estate planning.

As a result, it is even more important that legal decisions are made carefully and with full knowledge of rights, obligations, and potential consequences. Each of the family law Information Pages on LegalAve has a section discussing “Blended family considerations” for that topic.

Tip

Each of the family law Information Pages on LegalAve has a section discussing “Blended family considerations” for that topic.

For more information, see the following Information Pages.

To get married again your divorce must be final

At the end of the divorce process, the Court will grant a “Divorce Judgment.” It has the date of the Judgment on it. When you get this Judgment, you are not yet divorced. There is a 30-day period during which your spouse can appeal the Divorce Judgment. On the 31st day following the judgment, if the divorce has not been appealed, the Court can issue a “Certificate of Divorce.” To get your Certificate of Divorce, you will need to apply to the Court.

You cannot remarry until after the appeal period is over and the Certificate of Divorce has been issued.

For more detailed information about getting a Certificate of Divorce, see the Process tab of the Ending a Married Relationship under the Divorce Act Information Page.

A divorce granted in another country may be recognized under Canadian law. You will need to have evidence of that divorce to get remarried in Canada. However, if the divorce was granted under religious law only (for example, as might happen in some Muslim countries) that divorce would not be valid. The person would still be considered married under Canadian law and therefore could not get remarried here. For more information, see the Process tab of the New Relationships & Out-of-Province Issues Information Page.

Even when your divorce is final, you may need to take additional steps to be allowed to remarry within your religious faith (for example, a Jewish divorce called a “Get”). Sometimes, an ex-spouse will purposely make it difficult for the other spouse to meet these religious requirements. For more information about this, see the “Cultural and religious considerations” section below.

How remarriage affects estate planning: Wills, Powers of Attorney, Personal Directives, and Designation of Beneficiary forms

Wills, Powers of Attorney, Personal Directives, and Designation of Beneficiary forms are all legal documents that are used to plan for what happens when a person is ill or passes away. If you are not familiar with these documents, see the “Planning ahead for illness and death” section above.

Many people assume that when they split up and remarry, any previously made legal documents will no longer be valid. This is incorrect. As a result, it is important to review these legal documents. You will likely have to take steps to change them to reflect the changes in your life.

For example, if you have children from your previous relationship and your current relationship, you may want to update your Will to include all of your children. Or, you may have named your former spouse as decision-maker under a Power of Attorney and/or Personal Directive. If you do not change these documents and you become incapacitated, your former spouse will still have the power to make decisions for you, even though you are divorced!

For more information about planning for illness and death, see the following Information Pages:

Changing the children’s names after remarriage

After remarriage, a parent may want to change their children’s names to their new spouse’s surname. To change a child’s name, you must be a parent or guardian of that child.

Generally, if you want to change your child’s surname to your new spouse’s surname, you need the consent of your new spouse and the consent of the other biological parent (unless you are the sole guardian). If consent is refused, you may be able to apply for a court order to change the name.

Be Aware

If your child is 12 years or older, the child must also consent to the name change.

For more information about the rules for changing a child’s name, see the following resources.

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web What’s in a Name? Legal Issues in Changing a Child’s Name
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Adopting or becoming the guardian of your new spouse’s children

You may want to either adopt or become the legal guardian of your new spouse’s children for various reasons. For example:

  • You may see the child as your own. As a parent or guardian, you will have the legal right to make decisions for that child.
  • The child may not have a relationship with their biological parent and you want to support that child by becoming their parent.
Be Aware

Adoption and guardianship are 2 different things. When you adopt a child, you become that child’s parent. You do not become the parent of a child when you become a child’s guardian.

Becoming the legal guardian of your new spouse’s children

“Guardianship” is the word used in Alberta’s Family Law Act to describe the decision-making power that adults have about a child. In Alberta, all children are subject to guardianship. The Family Law Act sets out who is automatically the guardian of a child. Usually both parents are guardians, and a child may have other legal guardians.

You can apply to the court to become the guardian of a child if you have had the care of the child for more than 6 months. A judge can set aside this requirement if it is in the best interests of the child.

For more information about guardianship, see the Becoming the Guardian of a Child Information Page.

Adopting your new spouse’s children

When you adopt someone, you become that child’s parent. Adoptive parents get the same legal rights and responsibilities as biological parents.

Step-parent adoptions are only suitable in certain situations. Currently, Alberta law only recognizes a maximum of 2 legal parents. If both biological parents are actively involved and contributing to the child’s life, then “replacing” one with an adoptive parent would not usually be an option.

To adopt a step-child, you must have consent from:

  • the birth parents;
  • any other guardians of the child; and
  • the child to be adopted, if that child is 12 years or older.

However, in certain serious situations, the Court may decide that the consent is not needed.

The step-parent who wants to adopt must be capable of taking on the responsibilities of becoming the child’s parent, and the adoption must be in the child’s best interests.

Step-parent adoptions require an application to the Court of Queen’s Bench.

For more information on adoption by step-parents, see the Adopting a Child Information Page and the following resources.

Audio/Web Step parent adoption
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Private adoption
Government of Alberta
English

Web Considering Adopting Your Step Children in Alberta?
Small Miracles Adoption
English

More information

For more information about what to think about when you get remarried, see the following resources.

Web Remarriage
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Video Remarriage after Divorce
AdviceScene (via YouTube)
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.


PDF Dating and New Relationships for Older Adults
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Getting Re-married Later in Life: Some Estate Planning Considerations
Self-Counsel Press
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.
Cultural and religious considerations

Religious marriage ceremonies

There are 2 types of wedding ceremonies in Alberta: civil or religious. You can choose which type of ceremony you want. However, the ceremony must meet certain legal requirements for you to be legally married. Most religious ceremonies are planned to meet these requirements. But sometimes a couple may decide to have more than one ceremony: one that meets the legal rules to be officially married, and a second in which they can do as they please.

For more information, see the “Legal requirements to get married in Alberta” section above.

The Muslim Mahr

A Mahr is an Islamic marriage contract. In it, the groom promises to give a certain amount of money to his bride at certain times during their marriage or when certain events occur, such as upon the husband’s death or if the marriage breaks down. The Mahr is a gift from the husband to the wife. The purpose is so that the wife can take care of herself if the marriage ends. The Mahr is somewhat similar to the concept of “dower” in Canadian law, but it is not limited to real property.

A Mahr is entered into before the parties marry, and the promised amount becomes the property of the wife. Most Mahrs will include a portion that will be paid at the time of marriage. The rest will be paid later when certain events occur.

In Canada, some Mahrs have been recognized while others have not. An Alberta court has ruled that a Mahr can be considered a valid pre-nuptial agreement if it meets all the legal requirements. See the following resource to read the case.

To learn about these legal requirements in Alberta, see the Pre-nuptial & Marriage Agreements Information Page

For more information on Mahrs and how they are recognized under Canadian law, see the following resources.

PDF Domestic Contracts: Muslim & Canadian Family Laws
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Muslim & Canadian Family Laws: A Comparative Primer
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.


Web Did Traditional Dowry Gift from Groom’s Family Come with Conditions?
Russell Alexander, Collaborative Family Lawyers
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

PDF Enforcing Mahr in the Canadian Courts
Ontario Bar Association
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Video The Islamic Marriage Gift
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Jewish Get: Divorce and remarriage

The rules of faith have no effect on getting a divorce under Canadian law. However, your faith may not automatically recognize the divorce. In some religions there are additional things you need to do if you wish to remarry in your faith, or even to participate fully in your religious community. One example is a Jewish divorce, called a “Get.”

Sometimes, one spouse will purposely make it difficult for the other spouse to meet these religious requirements. For example: one spouse may refuse to provide the necessary paperwork that allows the other spouse to marry again inside the faith. This is called imposing a “barrier” to remarriage.

Section 21.1 of Canada’s Divorce Act gives some power to the courts to deal with these situations. The Court cannot force the spouse to remove the barrier. However, it can limit the court actions of the spouse who refuses to remove the barrier.

For example, the Court may:

  • dismiss any other applications made by that spouse regarding any divorce-related issues, such as custody and property division;
  • refuse to consider any evidence provided by that spouse; or
  • award “damages” (in other words, money) to the person who is being prevented from remarrying.

These actions are meant to pressure the spouse to lift the barrier.

For more information on religious and cultural practices when dealing with remarriage, see the following resources. Note that these resources are from outside Alberta, but the same general information applies.

Web What is a "Jewish divorce"?
Luke's Place
English

PDF Why do I need a Jewish divorce? Questions & Answers about Divorce for Jewish Women
Act to End Violence Against Women
English, French, Russian, Spanish, Other languages

Web Family Law Education for Women
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Korean, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu
Choose your language, then see topic #11.

Audio Family Law Topics in Audio
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
English
Choose “Marriage and Divorce.” Go to 5:00.

Video Marriage and Divorce: ASL
Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children
American Sign Language

PDF Marriage: Muslim & Canadian Family Laws
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English

PDF Divorce: Muslim & Canadian Family Laws
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English

PDF Domestic Contracts: Muslim & Canadian Family Laws
Canadian Council of Muslim Women
English

Video Religious Divorces and Barriers to Religious Remarriage
Feldstein Family Law Group
English
This resource is from a private source outside Alberta. Learn more here.

Arranged marriage or forced marriage?

Arranged marriages are very common in some cultures. In these situations, a person does not find their own marriage partner. Instead, family members or friends select a possible partner for their adult child intending for them to get married. However, both possible partners in this arrangement have the right to choose whether or not they want to marry the recommended person. Therefore, in arranged marriages, there is consent from both people in the relationship.

This is different from a forced marriage which happens when one or both of the people do not consent to the marriage. They are made to marry the person someone else has selected even though they don’t want to.

In Canada, both people must consent to getting married to each other. Therefore, arranged marriages are allowed, but forced marriages are not. For more information, see the following resource and the “Forced marriages vs. arranged marriages” section above.

Web Before Getting Married
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Child marriage

In some cultures, it is common for children to be married at quite a young age. In Canada, there are age limits for who may marry.

In most cases, a person must be 18 or older to get married in Alberta. Under certain conditions, a person can get married between the ages of 16 and 18. Anyone younger than 16 cannot marry.

Be Aware

Recent changes to the Criminal Code of Canada raised the minimum age for marriage from 14 to 16 years old. The Alberta Marriage Act still says that under very specific circumstances, females under 16 can get married. However, the Criminal Code makes it clear that anyone who helps with, participates in, or celebrates the marriage of a person who is under 16 years old can be charged with a crime. This is punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Immigration considerations

A person does not become a Canadian citizen or permanent resident simply by marrying someone who is a Canadian citizen. Instead, the spouse who is the Canadian citizen or permanent resident can “sponsor” the non-Canadian spouse to come to Canada.

Be Aware

Sponsoring someone is a serious legal and financial obligation and should not be entered into lightly.

For information about sponsoring your spouse to come to Canada, see the following resources. Note that these resources are from outside Alberta, but the same general information applies.

Web Do you want to sponsor your family to join you in Canada? (Fact sheet)
Community Legal Education Ontario
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Somali, Spanish, Tamil, Urdu

Video Permanent Resident: Spousal Sponsorship in Canada
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Bring Family to Canada with Family Sponsorship: Immigration Canada
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web Spousal Sponsorship Lawyers in Calgary, Canada
Kahane Law Office
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.

Web How do I sponsor a spouse or common-law partner from inside Canada?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Gujarati, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu

Web How do I sponsor a spouse, common-law or conjugal partner, or dependent child living outside of Canada?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Gujarati, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Urdu

Web Can I sponsor my same-sex spouse, common-law or conjugal partner?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
English

Web The Legal Rights of Immigrant Women
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

 

For information about being sponsored by your spouse to come to Canada, see the following resources.

Web Do I become a Canadian when I marry a Canadian?
Government of Canada
English


Web Canadian Law & Modern Day Foreign Brides
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English



Web The Legal Rights of Immigrant Women
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

 

For information specifically about marriages between Canadians and Americans, see the following resources.

Web U.S.-Canada Marriages
Allen & Hodgman
English
This is a private source. Learn more here.


 

For information about marriage fraud for immigration purposes, see the following resources.

Web Marriage fraud
Government of Canada
English

Web Fraude relative au mariage
Government of Canada
French

Video Marriage fraud: stories from victims
Government of Canada (via YouTube)
English
Aboriginal matters and on-reserve considerations

In general, the laws about getting married and the legal rights and responsibilities of married people are the same for Aboriginal people as for everyone else. However, in 2 areas there are differences:

  • Legal recognition of Aboriginal “customary marriages”
  • Property rights if you live on-reserve

Customary marriages

There have been some court cases where marriage of Aboriginal people by traditional custom has been recognized as legally valid. This requires that the marriage was:

  • voluntary (that is, freely chosen by the couple);
  • intended to last for life;
  • between 2 people only (marriage between more than 2 people is not allowed in Canada); and
  • considered valid by the community where the custom originated.

For more information, see the following resource.

PDF Your Rights on Reserve: A Legal Tool-kit for Aboriginal Women in BC
Atira Women's Resource Society
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here. See p. 40.

To see examples of court cases where this topic was addressed, see the following resources.


Property rights if you live on-reserve

The law about the property rights of married couples who live on-reserve has recently changed. The Family Homes on Reserves and Matrimonial Interests or Rights Act (FHRMIRA) gives new on-reserve property rights to spouses and common-law partners.

However, the FHRMIRA only applies on reserves where the First Nation has chosen to not make its own rules about on-reserve family property. If your First Nation has made its own rules, you would need to follow those instead of the FHRMIRA. A list of First Nations that have made their own rules about family property division can be found in the following resource.


Be Aware

The FHRMIRA applies to both married and “common-law” couples. So, if you live on-reserve, this law may affect you even before you get married. For the purposes of this law, “common-law” is defined as it is in the Indian Act, which is living together in a conjugal (sexual) relationship for at least one year.

The FHRMIRA rules apply to all married couples who live on reserve, even if one of the spouses:

  • is not Aboriginal;
  • does not have registered Indian Status with the Government of Canada; or
  • does not have status for that particular reserve.

As long as one of the spouses is a member of the First Nation, or has Indian Status, the FHRMIRA rules apply.

The starting position under FHRMIRA is that both spouses have an interest in the family home, regardless of whose name appears on the Certificate of Possession (or equivalent legal documents related to the property).

As a result, during the relationship:

  • both spouses have the right to live in the family home; and
  • if the family home is to be sold, both spouses must consent to the sale in writing. One spouse cannot simply sell the home on their own.

The FHRMIRA also provides certain rights if one of the spouses dies, including:

  • the right to stay in the family home for at least 6 months;
  • the right to apply for an Exclusive Occupation Order; and
  • the right to a share of the on-reserve family property.

For more information about these rights, see the Dealing with a Death in the Family Information Page.

Lastly, the FHRMIRA provides specific rights if the relationship breaks down, including:

  • the right to apply for an Emergency Protection Order;
  • the right to apply for an Exclusive Occupation Order; and
  • the right to a share of the on-reserve family property.

For information about these rights, see the Family Breakdown if You Live on Reserve Information Page.

LGBTQ considerations

In Canada, same-sex marriage is allowed. All couples who live in Alberta can follow the exact same laws and procedures.

However, not all countries allow, or recognize, same sex marriage. As a result, people from other countries may travel to Canada to marry. After the marriage, they return to their home country. But, their marriage is not recognized in their own country. This can sometimes cause legal problems for them.

One of those problems arises if they ever want to get divorced (for example, so they can remarry). They will not be able to get divorced in their country because their country does not consider them to be married. And, they cannot use Canada’s Divorce Act unless they are living in Canada.

Canada has dealt with this problem through a section of the Civil Marriage Act, which sets out how these spouses can get a divorce in Canada. For more information, see the “Non-resident same-sex couples getting a divorce in Alberta” section of the Family Breakdown & Out-of-Province Issues Information Page.

For more information about LGBTQ marriage rights in Canada, see the following resources.

Web LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Rights in Canada
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English




Web Can I sponsor my same-sex spouse, common-law or conjugal partner?
Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants
English
This resource is from outside Alberta. Learn more here.
Polyamorous considerations

In Canada, you can only be married to one person at a time. Also, a person cannot become the Adult Interdependent Partner of another person if one of them is already living with their married spouse.

Therefore, only 2 partners can benefit from the rights and responsibilities of a married relationship.

However, it is possible to have more than 2 parties sign a cohabitation agreement. In fact, a cohabitation agreement is a way for polyamorous families to set their own “rules,” since neither federal nor provincial laws will give them any protection. Even so, enforcing a cohabitation agreement between multiple romantic parties can be difficult because polyamorous relationships are not recognized under the law.

The issues that could arise in polyamorous relationships can be very complex. Therefore, it may be helpful to work with a lawyer to create a cohabitation agreement. For more information, see the Working with a Lawyer Information Page and the Cohabitation Agreements Information Page.

Be Aware

In Canada, marriage is defined as an “exclusive” relationship. This means it is only between 2 people. Therefore, a spouse who has sexual relations with someone else is committing “adultery,” which is one of the legal reasons that a person can ask for a divorce (called the “grounds for divorce”). Even if your spouse has given permission for you to have sexual relations with others, they could later change their mind and accuse you of adultery.

If there are children

One or more of the partners in a polyamorous relationship may have children. In this case, the other partners may find themselves acting as parents to the children. This is called “standing in the place of a parent” or “in loco parentis.”

If you are standing in the place of a parent to a child, you may want to establish a more solid legal basis for the relationship. You can apply to become a guardian of the child. For more information about how to do that, see the Becoming the Guardian of a Child Information Page.

Process

Learn more about steps involved when getting married and being  married in Alberta. See the sections below for information about:

  • Finding a registry agent
  • Getting a marriage licence, finding a marriage officiant, and ordering a marriage certificate
  • Changing your marital status with the federal government
  • Changing your name
  • Reporting a forced marriage
  • Sponsoring your spouse to immigrate
  • Asking the Court for a support order from your spouse

Please read “Who is this Information Page for?” just below to make sure you are on the right page.

LegalAve provides general legal information, not legal advice. Learn more here.

Last Reviewed: August 2017
Who is this Information Page for?

This Information Page has information about processes and steps involved when getting married, and after you get married. In general, the law and process on this Information Page is about couples who live in Alberta.

You are currently on the Process tab of this Information Page. For information about the law that affects Albertans getting married, click on the Law tab above. There is also important information in the Common Questions and Myths tabs above.

Finding a registry agent

There are many different registry agents throughout Alberta. To find a registry agent near you, see the following resource.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English
Getting a marriage licence

To get married in Alberta, you must first get a marriage licence. A marriage licence is a document that shows that a couple has met all the requirements to get married in Alberta.

Be Aware

If one or both of the people getting married are not fluent in English, an interpreter is required. This is to make sure that each person understands the information that they are getting. If one of the people getting married is fluent in English but the other is not, an interpreter is still required. In other words, the people getting married cannot translate or interpret the information for each other. Finding an interpreter is the couple’s responsibility. To find interpreters who are trained for legal work, see the following resource.

Interactive Member Directory
Association of Translators and Interpreters of Alberta
English

 

For information about the requirements for getting a marriage licence in Alberta, see the following resource.

Web Marriage Licences
Government of Alberta
English

 

To get a marriage licence, both of you must go together to a registry office. You will have to pay a fee. As long as you meet all the requirements, you can get a marriage licence on that same day.

You can get a marriage licence from any registry agent in Alberta.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

If you get a marriage licence in Alberta, you must get married in Alberta. If you plan on having a wedding outside of Alberta or a “destination wedding,” you must get the proper licencing and paperwork done in the location where you plan on getting married. See the “Getting married outside of Alberta” section on the Law tab of this Information Page for more information about this.

Finding a marriage officiant

In Alberta, there are 2 types of marriage officiants:

  • marriage commissioners who perform civil ceremonies; and
  • religious representatives or members of the clergy who are registered to perform religious wedding ceremonies.

To find a marriage commissioner near you, contact a registry agent or see the following resource.

Web Find a marriage officiant
Government of Alberta
English

To find a religious marriage officiant, contact your church or a religious organization. There are many religious representatives registered in Alberta, but there is no public list available.

Ordering a marriage certificate or registration document

You will likely want to have at least one copy of your marriage certificate to use as proof of your marriage when needed. You can also get an official photocopy of your registration of marriage.

For more information about ordering marriage documents, see the following resource.

Web Marriage Certificates & Documents | How it works
Government of Alberta
English
Also see “How to apply” on the right of the page.
Making changes or correcting errors on marriage documents

There are different reasons why you might need to make a correction on a marriage document. For example, there might be a spelling mistake or some information is incomplete. Or, you might want to make a change to the information because you are transgender.

You can request a change (an “amendment”) to a registration either through a registry agent or directly through Vital Statistics. For more information, see the following resources.

Web Making an Amendment to a Registration
Government of Alberta
English

To find a registry agent near you, see the following resource.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English
Changing your marital status with the federal government

Once you are married, you must update your marital status with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) no later than the end of the month following the month when your status changed. So, if you are getting married in March, you must notify the CRA by April 30 of that same year.

For more information about how to do this, see the following resource.


Changing your name

The 2 ways to change your name

If you want to change your name to be the same as your spouse’s, or if you both want to change your names to be the same (for example, Smith-Jones), you can do that in 2 different ways.

The first way is to just start using the new name you want for yourself. This is called “assuming a new name” and is based on the tradition of taking a spouse’s last name. This is a legal way of taking a new last name, but it is not the same thing as a formal “legal” name change.

The second way is to complete a “legal” name change. This will change the name on your birth certificate. For information about how to legally change your name, see the following resources.

Web Change of Name
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web Changing a Name | How it works
Government of Alberta
English

Informing others of your name change

No matter how you change your name, you will want to let others know about it. You will need to update all of your identification to reflect your name change. To do this, most organizations will want to see “evidence” of your name change. You can show them your marriage certificate.

For information on how to tell the CRA about your name change, see the following resource.

Web How to tell the CRA about your change of name
Government of Canada
English

For a list of other places that you may want to notify of your name change, see the following resource.

Web Changing your last name after getting married
Alberta Motor Association
English
Changing your children’s names

After remarriage, a parent may want to change their children’s names to their new spouse’s surname. To change a child’s name, you must be a parent or guardian of that child.

Generally, if you want to change your child’s surname to your new spouse’s surname, you need the consent of your new spouse and the consent of the other biological parent (unless you are the sole guardian). If consent is refused, you may be able to apply for a court order to change the name.

Be Aware

If your child is 12 years or older, the child must also consent to the name change.

For more information about the rules for changing a child’s name, see the following resources.

Web Change of Name
Student Legal Services of Edmonton
English
See “Changing Your Child’s Name.”

Audio/Web Changing Your Name
Calgary Legal Guidance
English

Web What’s in a Name? Legal Issues in Changing a Child’s Name
Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta
English

Web Changing a Name | How it works
Government of Alberta
English
Also see “How to apply” on the right of the page.

A registry agent can provide forms and explain the steps. To find a registry agent near you, see the following resource.

Web Find a registry agent
Government of Alberta
English
Reporting forced marriage

If you or someone you know is being forced to marry someone else, you can report it. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Forced marriage
Government of Canada
English
See “If you or someone you know might be forced into marriage.”

Web Mariage forcé
Government of Canada
French
Voir : “Si vous croyez qu’on tente de vous marier de force ou qu’on veut forcer une de vos connaissances à se marier.”
Sponsoring your spouse to immigrate

A person does not become a Canadian citizen or permanent resident simply by marrying someone who is a Canadian citizen. Instead, the spouse who is the Canadian citizen or permanent resident can “sponsor” the non-Canadian spouse to come to Canada. For more information, see the following resource.

Web Apply to sponsor your spouse, partner or children
Government of Canada
English

Be Aware

The sponsorship process is a serious legal decision. It also involves many steps and can take a long time. You may want to get legal advice if you are considering this. For more information, see the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.

See the following resource for information about sponsoring your spouse for permanent residency.


Asking the Court for a support order from your spouse

Spouses are obligated to financially support each other. If your spouse is not adequately supporting you (for example: if you are sick and cannot support yourself), you can apply for a support order under the Family Law Act.

Support includes food, clothing, medical aid, and lodging. If one spouse is able to provide these necessaries of life for the other spouse but has refused or neglected to provide them, the Court may grant a support order.

Hiring a lawyer or representing yourself?

If you go to court, you can choose to either be represented by a lawyer, or to represent yourself. If you choose to represent yourself, you will be called a “self-represented litigant.”
 

Hiring a lawyer

If you hire a lawyer, your lawyer will explain to you what is happening with your case and why. A lawyer can help you reach an out-of-court agreement, or represent you in court.

However, even if you do have a lawyer, you may wish to continue reading this (and other Information Pages) to educate yourself further.

For more information about your options for legal representation and other legal help, see the Community Legal Resources & Legal Aid Information Page and the Working with a Lawyer Information Page.
 

Representing yourself

As a self-represented litigant, you can find some help at Resolution and Court Administration Services. See just below for information about help available in your area.

For more information, see the Representing Yourself in Court Information Page.

Help from Resolution and Court Administration Services

Resolution and Court Administration Services (RCAS) is a group of programs and services offered by the Alberta government to help people resolve their legal matters. RCAS staff:

  • help you stay out of court when possible;
  • help with the court process and forms if you go to court; and
  • offer free or low-cost programs to help families with the legal system.

For more information about how RCAS can help you, see the following resource.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English
Be Aware

These services used to be called Family Justice Services, Family Law Information Centres, and Law Information Centres. They are now together as a single point of contact to help Albertans with legal matters. However, you might still see some resources that call those services by their old names.

If you choose to go to court, some RCAS services might be mandatory. This means that you must use those services. This can depend on where you live and what kinds of issues you are taking to court.

In some locations, such as in Calgary, all self-represented litigants must first go through “triage services” before doing anything else. At triage, you will:

  • meet with RCAS staff for about 10 minutes to see what your next steps should be;
  • be referred to different services based on your needs;
  • be told what steps you can take next; and
  • schedule an intake appointment if needed (see below).

In many locations, self-represented litigants will have the option to go through an intake process. In some locations it is mandatory. At intake, RCAS staff will discuss your options with you. This may include a referral to court-supported family mediation when appropriate. See the following resources for more information.

Web Family court assistance
Government of Alberta
English

Web Intake Services (Alberta)
Government of Canada
English

RCAS staff also:

  • provide caseflow conferencing in Provincial Court;
  • help you review your documents before you file; and
  • provide family court counsellors (FCCs) who help you learn about the court process and present the facts to the judge in Provincial Court.

For more information about how RCAS can help you, see the following resource.

Web Resolution and Court Administration Services
Government of Alberta
English

Choosing the court & completing your paperwork

When you are in a married relationship and you are asking for a spousal support order under the Family Law Act, you will have to choose between Provincial Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench.

All of the information you need to make that choice and to complete the paperwork in either court is on the Process tab of the Partner Support under the Family Law Act Information Page.

Although that Information Page has information about partner support when a relationship breaks down, the procedure is the same in a marriage that is still intact. The only difference is the “reason” you give on the Statement form (see below). Specifically, if you are still together, you will want to check off the third checkbox in section 4 of the form. This states that you and your spouse “are still living together” but that he or she “has without sufficient cause refused or neglected” to provide you “with the necessities of life.”

Do not use this form, or start your court action, without first reviewing the Process tab of the Partner Support under the Family Law Act Information Page.

PDF Statement - Spousal/Partner Support (Form FL-48 / CTS3473)
Government of Alberta
English
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Provincial Court

Queen's Bench

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