The rise of short marriages, characterized by unions of relatively brief duration, has brought about a distinct set of legal considerations and implications within the Ontario and toronto family law framework when considering separation and divorce.
In Ontario, short marriages encompass unions that terminate within a few years of their initiation, contrasting with traditional lifelong commitments. While no strict duration categorizes a marriage as short, it typically refers to unions of less than five years. This evolving trend prompts discussions regarding the legal rights of those seeking to end a short marriage by way of separation and/or divorce.
Under Ontario’s legal system, the process of ending a marriage via divorce remains consistent regardless of the duration. The Divorce Act, which governs divorce proceedings in Canada, upholds the principle of “no-fault” divorce, requiring only the assertion that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Divorce can be a lengthy process for all marriages regardless of their duration. Many factors specific to the couples’ circumstances can influence the time it takes to finalize a divorce, irrespective of the marriage’s duration.
Ontario operates under the principle of equalization of net family property, ensuring fair distribution of accumulated wealth during the marriage. As per the Family Law Act (FLA), the equal division of property is mandatory regardless of the marriage’s duration. The FLA stipulates the equalization of all net family property unless certain exclusions apply, such as inheritance or gifts received during the marriage.
Despite the above, property division remains a legally contentious issue for short marriages. Courts have been willing to recognize the challenges of determining a fair division of property when marriages are brief. In the case of a four-year marriage called Booth v. Bilek, the judge awarded a party less than the equalization sum because the judge found that it would be unconscionable to do so. In this case, the wife had made little financial contribution to the marriage and was already better off than when it commenced.
Conversely, Kerr v. Baranow emphasized the principle of unjust enrichment, indicating that even in short marriages, if one spouse made significant contributions to the other spouse’s wealth or property, they might be entitled to compensation. This case highlighted the importance of recognizing the non-monetary contributions made during the marriage, such as homemaking and child-rearing, which can impact the financial outcomes of short marriages.
Spousal support may still be a consideration, though the duration of support may vary. Factors influencing spousal support decisions include the length of the marriage, roles during the marriage, financial circumstances, and contributions to the family. Spousal support may be awarded on a temporary basis to aid the transition to post-divorce financial independence. Although the duration of a marriage is a factor for consideration, it does not guarantee a certain outcome. In Spurgeon v. Spurgeon, the court held that “each marriage creates its own pattern of dependency, and the court should recognize and redress such dependency in determining the duration of support.” This case demonstrated that even shorter marriages can warrant extensive support obligations regardless of the marriage’s timeline. Moreover, a short-term marriage involving children can extend support so that children are not disadvantaged by a separation.
Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements
Prenuptial agreements, or marriage contracts, are valuable tools in addressing financial considerations in the event of divorce, regardless of marriage duration. The FLA allows couples to outline property division, support obligations, and other matters. These agreements can offer clarity and protect the interests of both parties, particularly in the context of short marriages.
As short marriages become more prevalent in Ontario, a nuanced legal landscape emerges. Couples must navigate the legal implications, rights, and responsibilities associated with short marriages. While the duration of a marriage may be short, the legal considerations are significant, necessitating informed decision-making, collaboration, and expert legal counsel. As society evolves, so does the understanding of marriage, and the legal framework adapts to accommodate these changing dynamics.
To learn more about how your short marriage may impact your separation and divorce, please contact us today to speak with one of our Experienced Toronto Divorce Lawyers.
By Alexandra Faircloth, Articling Student (2023/2024)