Some of the information below may be taken from common law and would therefore not necessarily be applicable to the province of Quebec although, in many aspects, the Civil Code and Quebec jurisprudence mirrors common law principles in this subject matter.

Marriage is the state-recognized, voluntary and exclusive contract for the lifelong union of two persons.

On engagements

You can't sue for breach of promise of marriage anymore in B.C., Manitoba or Ontario. Alberta still allows these types of court actions.

When engagement rings are given before the engagement is broken off, the rule is whoever broke off the engagement forfeits the ring. So if your boyfriend decides that he doesn't want to get married after giving you an engagement ring, you can keep the ring. But if the woman decides to break off the engagement after accepting the ring, she has to return it to her suitor.

Void or voidable marriages

In law, there is a difference between marriages that are void and those which are voidable .

Void marriages are those which are afflicted with a fatal flaw which nullifies the marriage no matter what the position of the spouses might be. The legal status of void marriages are as if they never occurred. Examples of void marriages are those involving a child below the age of seven, those where one of the spouses is already married, those between closely related persons (related lineally or by adoption) or where a mistake of identity of the partner has been made.

Voidable marriages mean that even though there is legal flaw in the marriage, it will be recognized until and unless someone brings the flaw to the attention of a court.

This would be the case, for example, where one or both of the parties were intoxicated during the ceremony to the point where their consent could not have been given.

Another example is where a person is coerced (threatened) into marriage or where they were mislead as to the nature of the ceremony (this could occur where it was held in a language not understood by one of the parties).

Marriages have to be consummated by sexual intercourse between the couple and are voidable if impotency is discovered. Impotency includes an aversion to sexual intercourse. However, a single act of consummation eliminates this possible ground for voiding a marriage (once consummated, always consummated).

Provincial marriage acts provide details on the legal age required for marriage. Generally, marriages of males below the age of 15 are voidable and below the age of 12 for girls.

Marriages of convenience, such as for social assistance, income tax or immigration purposes, are not voidable on that grounds alone because the courts don't care about the motive for marrying.

Attempts to void marriages done on a bet, on a dare, to avoid a court-martial or to get a conditional gift from a will, have all failed.

Religious annulments are not recognized by civic or judicial authorities and are valid only to the extent that they may be recognized by the Church.

Divorce or annulment proceedings on one of the above-mentioned grounds is the proper way to effect a legal end to a marriage in Canada.