Parents File For Divorce In Both Canada And Belgium: The Supreme Court of Canada Weighs In

Written on behalf of Arbesman Hamilton LLP

The world is quickly seeming like a smaller place than it was a generation ago. Digital forms of communication have allowed people to interact with those in faraway places without delay. The world is also smaller in terms of the ability to travel, and for people to move about, either for work of pleasure. But increased mobility can bring with it confusion. In a great example of this, the Supreme Court of Canada recently issued a decision on how a family who has lived in both Canada and abroad should approach their separation.  

An International Family

The parents in the trial had met in Paris in the 1990s. The wife was Moroccan, while the husband was French. They had two children, born in 1997 and 2002. The couple, who are wealthy, moved from France to Belgium in 2004 in order to pay less tax. They were married in December of that year, opting for a separation of property under Belgian law. The family all obtained Belgian nationality in 2012, with the father renouncing his French citizenship.

The family had begun considering a move to Quebec in 2008. By 2013 they decided to purchase property there and moved the family to Quebec that same summer.

The couple’s relationship began to deteriorate in 2014. The mother told the father she intended to file for divorce that summer while on holiday in Belgium. The mother filed for divorce in Canada, while the father did the same in Belgium.

A question of
jurisdiction

The father sought to divorce in Belgium because it would allow him to revoke gifts he made to the mother during their marriage. These gifts were valued at over $33 million. The father applied to the Superior Court under article 3137 of the Civil Code of Quebec, seeking to stay it’s ruling on the divorce in Quebec. The Quebec court determined it would not be able to recognize the outcome of the Belgian divorce because the revoking of gifts was seek as discriminatory in Quebec. The ruling was that the divorce in Quebec should not be stayed.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal reversed the judgment on the grounds that the Belgian divorce was not yet finalized, and it was therefore too premature to determine if anything discriminatory had happened.

The Supreme Court’s
Analysis

The Supreme Court of Canada looked at the conditions required for an application under Article 3137. The requirements are that the parties need to be identical in both actions, the action must have first originated in a foreign court, and the court’s decision must be recognizable under a court in Quebec.  The court explained that last requirement, writing “a foreign decision will not be recognized if its outcome runs counter to the moral, social, economic or even political conceptions that underpin Quebec’s legal order.”

The court ultimately decided that the Quebec proceedings should continue, but should not apply to property that was purchased while they were in Belgium. The court wrote, “There are a number of factors in support of the possibility that that outcome will not involve the revocation of the gifts, and therefore that it will not be manifestly inconsistent with this international public order. This is enough to meet the third condition.”

The end of a marriage is always difficult and emotional. The experienced and compassionate divorce lawyers at Arbesman Hamilton LLP can make the process easier by providing outstanding legal guidance and ensuring your interests and rights are protected so that you can focus on moving on with your life. Contact us online or at 416-481-5604 to book a consultation.