For the estimated 400,000 “common law” marriage partners in Canada, the nation’s 1967 centennial may be worth special celebration. Prime Minister Lester Pearson has promised parliamentary legislation this year for divorce reform and for changes in the criminal code that now outlaws birth control and abortion. Prompting revisions are about 600 petitions, largely from Canadian churches. In all the arguments there is not a single objection to widening grounds for divorce.

The existing divorce statute is built upon the “marital offense” concept. Adultery is the only grounds for divorce in all Canadian provinces except Nova Scotia, where charges of gross cruelty can also dissolve a marriage. Divorce hearings are conducted under the aegis of the provincial supreme courts, except in Quebec and Newfoundland, where divorces require federal parliamentary enactment.

To replace the “marital offense” rationale, divorce-reform advocates are campaigning for the “marriage breakdown” concept. Under this idea divorces are deemed advisable in cases where there are seemingly irreconcilable issues. The United Church of Canada advocates a waiting period of at least three years between the initial marriage collapse and the granting of divorce.

The new theory, which is supported by the Anglican Church of Canada, eliminates the listing of causes. The court granting a divorce must be convinced that there is no chance of reconciliation and that children will have adequate protection. Among groups advocating parliamentary divorce reform are the Seventh-day Adventists, the Canadian Bar Association, the Law Society of British Columbia, the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Canadian Congress of Women, the Canadian Committee for the Status of Women, ...

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