Family Law

Marriage and divorce

It is against the law to be married to more than one person at a time. You cannot come to Canada with more than one spouse even if you were married to more than one person in the past.

It is also against the law to marry someone in Canada if one of you is already married (it does not matter where or when that marriage took place). You can only remarry if you are legally divorced or if your spouse has died.

In Canada, only a court can give you a civil divorce. Either husband or wife may apply for a divorce but you must prove to the court that your marriage has broken down and that you have arranged for the support of any children.

It is illegal to force anyone into marriage in Canada. If you are pressured into marriage you should contact the police. They will protect you.

It is a crime to marry a Canadian citizen or permanent resident only to gain entry into Canada. Find out more information about marriage fraud.

Family violence

Family violence includes many different kinds of abuse that adults or children may have in their families or homes. All kinds of physical and sexual abuse (including unwanted sexual activity with your husband, wife, partner, boyfriend or girlfriend) are illegal under the Criminal Code of Canada. It is a crime to:

  • hit, punch, beat or kick a member of your family
  • threaten to hurt or kill someone
  • have any sexual contact with a child
  • neglect a family member
  • abuse a family member in a financial or psychological way

Canada also does not accept female genital mutilation and honour-based crimes.

If you are found guilty of a violent crime against a family member, you could be put in jail.

If you are the victim of family violence, call the police or 911. There are also special support organizations that can help you—their contact information is listed in the front pages of the telephone book. Canada takes family violence seriously. If someone tries to frighten you by saying that you will be deported or lose your children for reporting family violence, contact the police or a support organization right away for help.

Child abuse and neglect

Parents can be charged with a crime if they do not provide for their children under the age of 16. This includes:

  • feeding
  • clothing
  • housing a child

It is illegal in Canada to abuse your children. Abuse can be:

  • hitting your child with an object
  • touching them sexually
  • forcing them into marriage

You can be arrested for child abuse. Child protection laws let child welfare officials go into a home and even remove children if parents cannot or do not provide a minimum standard of care. Doctors, teachers, social workers and police will take action if they think children are being harmed. All adults in Canada have a legal duty to report situations where they suspect child abuse.

The age of majority and the age of consent

The age of majority is the age when a person is legally considered an adult. In Canada, the age of majority is 18 or 19 years old depending on the province or territory in which you live.

The general age of consent to sexual activity is 16 years. The age of consent is 18 years if the sexual activity happens within a relationship of authority, trust or dependency (for example, with a teacher, coach or babysitter), or where there is other exploitation. Pornography or prostitution involving persons under 18 years of age is a criminal offence in Canada. Remember that all sexual activity without consent is a crime regardless of age.

Senior abuse

It is illegal to hurt or take advantage of seniors. Senior abuse includes any action that someone in a relationship of trust takes that results in harm or distress to an older person. This abuse can:

  • be physical
  • be financial
  • be psychological
  • be sexual
  • include neglect

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime that usually affects vulnerable women and children who have often come to Canada as visitors or immigrants. It involves:

  • recruiting
  • transporting
  • imprisoning someone against their will for exploitation, often of a sexual nature

Help is available to victims of human trafficking. To report human trafficking, contact your local police at 911 or the Crime Stoppers Tip Line.

Animal protection

We have laws that prohibit cruelty toward animals. These laws apply to pets and farm animals. You may be fined or jailed if you neglect or hurt an animal.


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