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Foreign court undoes "I do" by saying "You didn't"

Marriage and divorce laws differ from state to state, just as they differ between Canada and the United States. Generally, if your marriage is recognized in one state or one country, it will be recognized in another. And if you follow the laws of Illinois when you got married, you should be able to get divorced in Illinois, assuming again that you follow the divorce laws.

There are some notable exceptions to these rules of thumb. Same-sex marriages or civil unions, for example, are not recognized by all states. In Illinois, for example, same-sex marriage is not only prohibited, but it is not recognized here even if it is valid in the state where it was performed. That couple cannot file for divorce in this state, because this state doesn't consider them legally married.

The Canadian government recently muddied the marital waters there with a decision that effectively declared existing same-sex marriages void. The couple at the core of the controversy was married there in 2005, though neither was or is a resident of that country. The two women now want to divorce, and they filed their petition in the country where they were married.

Needless to say, the women are confused. While they wait for a Toronto court to hear arguments at the end of February, advocates and opponents of same-sex unions are squaring off, shifting the focus from marriages of foreign non-residents to gay marriage in general.

The first same-sex marriages in Canada took place in 2003, when just a few provinces changed their laws. The country became a favorite destination for same-sex couples from the U.S. shortly thereafter. Of the approximately 7,500 same-sex couples that have been married in Canada, an estimated 2,500 unions involved foreign non-residents.

The government's argument echoes Illinois law, but in this case officials are reaching back seven years. We'll discuss the particulars in our next post.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Canada says marriages of foreign gays invalid," David Ljunggren and Richard Woodbury, Jan. 12, 2012

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