Family law

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Marriage and divorce

It’s against the law to be married to more than 1 person at a time. You can’t come to Canada with more than 1 spouse, even if you were married to more than 1 person in the past.

It’s also against the law to marry someone in Canada if 1 of you is already married (it doesn’t matter where or when that marriage took place). You can only remarry if you’re legally divorced or your spouse has died.

It’s a crime in Canada to

  • celebrate, aid or take part in the marriage of a child under 16 years old, even if the child agrees to be married
  • force anyone into marriage against their will
  • take part in or preside over a marriage ceremony knowing that one of the parties doesn’t consent to marry
  • take a person under 18, who normally lives in Canada, to another country to force them to marry

If you’re pressured into marriage, you should contact the police. They will protect you.

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

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.

Learn more in various languages, including Arabic, Chinese (traditional), Inuktitut, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil and Urdu:

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, girlfriend or children) 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 tolerate female genital mutilation or 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, and their contact information is listed in the front pages of the telephone book. Canada takes family violence seriously. You do not have to stay in an abusive relationship to keep your status in Canada. 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

In Canada, it is illegal to abuse your children. Abuse can be

  • hitting your child with an object
  • emotionally harming your child, such as through constant criticism, humiliation or threats
  • touching your child sexually
  • forcing your child into marriage
  • neglecting your child
  • any violence that your child sees or hears in their family

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 must report situations where they suspect child abuse to the appropriate provincial or territorial child welfare authority.

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 if there is other exploitation. Pornography or prostitution involving people under 18 years of age is a criminal offence in Canada. Remember that all sexual activity without consent is a crime, regardless of age.

Elder abuse

It is illegal to hurt or take advantage of elders. Elder 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

Find out how to protect yourself and get help.

Human trafficking

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

  • recruiting
  • transporting
  • forcing someone against their will to work or give sexual services

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

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada also offers protection and assistance to victims of human trafficking through a special temporary resident permit.

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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