Think Twice Before Getting Married Virtually during COVID-19

 In Family Law

As we wrote about in our previous blog, Wedding Bells: Can They Ring During COVID-19?, couples are having to get creative when making wedding plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Unfortunately, one long distance couple recently learned the limit of using technology to facilitate their cross-border marriage during these unprecedented times.

In response to COVID-19, Canada created travel restrictions which prevented foreign nationals from entering the country. Non-Canadians entering the country must be:

  • an immediate family member of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, or
  • traveling for an essential (non-discretionary purpose) directly from the US or exempt from the travel restrictions.

An immediate family member does not include a boyfriend, girlfriend or fiancé. This posed a problem for Mark Maksymiuk, a Michigan resident, and his girlfriend Lauren Pickrell, an Ontario resident. Lauren could not travel to the United States because of work commitments and the Canadian restrictions prevented Mark from coming north.

To expedite their reunion, the long distance couple decided to get married by proxy. According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), a proxy marriage “occurs when one or both of the participants are not physically present, but they are represented by another person who attends the solemnization.” In this case, the groom attended the formal marriage ceremony alone while the bride, and guests, attended an informal ceremony afterward by FaceTime. However, once the groom got to the Canadian border he was denied entry because Canada does not recognize proxy marriage for immigration purposes.

Specifically, IRCC does not recognize marriages “if at the time the marriage ceremony was conducted either one or both of the spouses were not physically present.” This also includes telephone, fax or internet marriages (i.e. by video call). There are limited exceptions to these rules including for members of the Canadian Armed Forces and for couples who lived together after marrying by proxy. More information about the IRCC’s policies can be found here. Among other reasons, these policies help to ensure that both parties consent to the marriage and that the marriage adheres to the formal requirements of the jurisdiction in which it was held.

Couples where both parties live in Canada should also reconsider plans to get married remotely. No Canadian provinces recognize proxy marriages performed in their jurisdiction. In Ontario, the Marriages Act requires that the couple and two witnesses be physically together. So, while it is fine for the guests to attend remotely, the couple, the officiant, and the witnesses should all be together at the same time to solemnize the marriage.

This blog post was written by Kathleen Broschuk, a member of the Family Law team.  Kathleen can be reached at 613-369-0362 or at kathleen.broschuk@mannlawyers.com.

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