What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…Unless you get married

Like all good stories, this one starts in the wee hours of the morning at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The couple, having known each other for a solid two hours, decided to pledge their love for one another after a night of drinking.

At 4:20 a.m. the couple were married by Reverend Luck. With marriage certificate in hand, the couple parted ways and returned to their respective hotel rooms, expecting never to see each other again.

But like all good stories involving Vegas and alcohol-fuelled love, there was one small snafu.  They were legally married.    Unless they could prove their marriage was void or sought a divorce, they were not permitted under Canadian law to marry anyone else. Polygamy is still illegal in Canada.

To rectify the situation, the “wife” went to the courts in B.C. claiming that she was drunk and did not know what she was doing.  In the alternative, she argued that the marriage was void because it was not consummated.

You can get out of many an awkward situation by claiming you were drunk and did not know what you were doing.  Unfortunately, entering a marriage contract requires such a low level of intelligence it is difficult not to meet the required threshold. In fact, you only have to understand that marriage is an engagement between a man and woman to live together, and love one another as husband and wife to the exclusion of all others (Hunter v. Edney (1885), 10 P.D. 80).

Since our blushing bride actually went to City Hall in Nevada to get the marriage certificate, the “I was really drunk” excuse did not work.  Strike one.

Consummating the marriage is still a requirement for a valid marriage. However, it is not enough to simply say that you have not had sexual intercourse since the date of the marriage. You need to demonstrate that you are impotent by reason of a psychological defect.  In other words you find the other person so repugnant that you are unable to consummate the marriage (see: HLC v. MAL, 2003 BCSC 1461).

The “wife” in this case simply stated they did not consummate the marriage.  This was not sufficient, and certainly did not involve a physical repugnance to her “husband”.  Strike two.

In a desperate attempt to get out of the marriage, the “wife” claimed the marriage was not valid in B.C. because it happened in Vegas.  However, because the marriage ceremony was valid according to Nevada law, and the marriage ceremony was recognized as valid according to B.C. law, the couple were legally married, and the validity of the marriage was upheld.  Strike three.

The only way out was to file for divorce.

Next time you go to Vegas, remember, a night of drunken revelry could leave you with more than a hangover and empty wallet.

This story is based on the case of CMD v. RRS, 2005 BCSC 757.


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