Family law matters can end up in the courts following a separation or divorce, and litigation can be a complex, uncertain and emotional time. Circumstances can be made even worse when an individual believes that their ex-partner is lying, or intentionally trying to mislead the court or intimidate a witness.
This article summarizes the recent case of Sonia v Ratan, which was before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. The key issue in this matter was to determine whether the wife had married another man. Each party claimed that the other had engaged in fraud in trying to establish their case.
In January 2020, the wife filed an application seeking a divorce, spousal support and the equalization of net family property. In response, the husband claimed that the parties were divorced in Bangladesh in 2017 and he filed a divorce certificate as proof. This was relevant to the equalization claim because such an application needs to be brought within two years after the day the marriage is terminated by divorce.
In response to this, the wife claimed that the 2017 divorce had been obtained by fraud. She subsequently obtained a certificate purporting to be from the Registrar stating that the divorce certificate was a forgery.
A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether the 2017 divorce was valid under Bangladeshi law and whether it should be recognized under Canadian law. The parties eventually agreed that the divorce would be recognized as valid only for purposes of Bangladeshi law, but that it would not be recognized in Canada, thereby allowing the wife to pursue her claims.
This agreement changed when the husband found out that the wife had married another man in May 2020. Since Canadian law prohibits a married person from marrying a second person, the wife could not be married to both men at the same time. Therefore, if the wife had married the other man, she would be required to have been divorced from the husband as of that date, under both Bangladeshi and Canadian law.
The husband sought an order finding that the wife had remarried and that the 2017 divorce be recognized as valid and enforceable in Canada. The judge decided to first hold a hearing to determine whether the wife had remarried, however, the alleged new husband died from COVID-19 complications and was not able to provide his own evidence.
The husband claimed that the wife had married her alleged new husband in Dhaka, Bangladesh in May 2020. The husband produced affidavits from six people who said they attended the wedding (including the religious scholar that allegedly performed the wedding), hospital records stating that the wife was the alleged new husband’s wife, letters between the wife alleged new husband where he acknowledges that she is his wife, and documents showing that the wife purchased a man’s wedding band in early May 2020.
The wife denied that she had remarried. She claimed that the affidavits were forgeries or that the people were engaged in a conspiracy with the husband to defraud her, the hospital records were fraudulent, the letters merely showed they were in love, and that she purchased a wedding band for a friend.
Justice Monahan found the evidence of the wedding attendees to be consistent and reliable. His Honour decided that the wife’s theory that the witnesses were conspiring with the husband to defraud the wife had no basis.
Furthermore, all of the people that provided evidence told the husband that they had been threatened with dire consequences if they testified in court. As a result, only four were prepared to testify. Based on their uncontradicted oral evidence, his Honour found that all were threatened to try to prevent them from testifying.
Justice Monahan found that the hospital records were authentic and sent by the manager of the hospital. The wife provided the information in the records as she acknowledged that she was the only person dealing with staff when her alleged husband was admitted.
In letters exchanged by the couple, the alleged husband signed off by writing “Your Husband”. Finally, his Honour decided that the wife lied about purchasing the ring for a friend’s husband as she presented two inconsistent accounts in different sworn statements.
Justice Monahan decided that the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the conclusion that the wife remarried in May 2020. The consequences of the marriage on the wife’s application are to be dealt with in future proceedings.
His Honour noted that whenever she was confronted with a document or fact that contradicted her position, the wife simply alleged, without credible evidence, that the husband was engaging in a fraudulent conspiracy. These baseless claims destroyed her credibility and wasted court time, with his Honour noting that “if all family litigation were conducted in this manner, the family law system would well and truly grind to a halt.”
Justice Monahan concluded by explaining that it was a crime to attempt to obstruct justice through witness intimidation:
“The fact that these efforts at witness intimidation very nearly succeeded is no doubt as much of a concern to Bangladesh as it is to Canada, since both societies are equally committed to the resolution of disputes through law. This court stands ready to assist the relevant administration of justice authorities in either jurisdiction who may wish to conduct the appropriate investigations.”
The end of a marriage is always difficult and emotional. The compassionate and experienced divorce lawyer at NULaw can help make the process easier by providing outstanding legal guidance and ensuring your interests are protected after a relationship breakdown. We ensure clients remain informed at each stage of the process and help them understand the options available to help them move forward. Contact us online or at 416-481-5604 to book a confidential consultation.