Canadian Divorce Records (National Institute)
The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian Vital Statistics Records Part 2 by by Sharon L. Murphy. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).
Divorce Records In Canada
Each province has its own system of record-keeping and its own laws regarding access to information. Throughout the ages the specifics of each law were adjusted as society underwent its various changes in attitude and lifestyles. Divorce in Canada before the 1960s was handled through a Private Act of the Parliament of Canada. These private bills were published annually at the back of the Statutes for the year. They often contained very useful information.
In the latter half of the 1800s the procedure to obtain a divorce was much different than it is today. First, a notice of intent to petition the government for an Act of Divorce had to be placed in The Canada Gazette as well as in two local newspapers in the district or county where the person resided. This notice was to remain in these publications for six months. The notice would include the names of both parties, their place of residence and the grounds under which the divorce was being sought.
Extract from the Standing Orders of the Legislative Council
Wording for process used when applying for divorce
The Canada Gazette had an annual alphabetical index in the back of the issue for March of the new year. The index is by name and subject.
Example Canada Gazette Divorce Notice
The Canada Gazette, Published by Authority Ottawa, Saturday, March 9, 1867 No. 10, VOL.XXVI. Page 811.
The petition itself would contain details such as the date and place of the marriage, as well as the events surrounding the end of the marriage. If adultery or bigamy were cited a co-respondent was often named. If the petition was allowed then Parliament would pass an Act of Divorce dissolving the marriage. A transcript of this Act was then published in the Statutes of Canada for the current year. Both The Canada Gazette and the Statutes of Canada are available at the National Library of Canada. These publications are also available at the Toronto Reference Library. See also at a public or genealogical library: Index to Canadian Parliamentary Divorces, 1867-1930 by J. Brian Gilchrist and Nancy J. Duffy. With a good introduction, the book includes wives, husbands and third parties if named. You must then consult the relevant cited statute or act for the details.
Example - The Canada Yearbook 1918
Statistics of Divorce
“Notes―In Prince Edward Island only one divorce has been granted from 1868 to 1917; the divorce was granted in 1913. In British Columbia, in addition to the divorce, 13 judicial separations have been granted; one in 1893, one in 1899, two in 1900, two in 1903, three in 1913, three in 1914; “Decree Nisi” has been granted in 20 cases: four in 1900, two in 1909, six in 1912, five in 1913, and three in 1914.” The Senate of Canada should be contacted for information on divorce proceedings for the following provinces and time periods. They can send you a copy of the complete Act.
Senate of Canada
Inquiries to the Senate of Canada should be sent to the following address:
Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel
Room 1310, 13th Floor
40 Elgin Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A4
After those dates and for provinces not included in the above list, (British Columbia, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick), divorce proceedings were handled by the provincial superior courts. The addresses for these courts can be located under the section heading “Courts and Judges” in the Canadian Almanac and Directory as well as in the provincial section in this course. Most public libraries hold copies of the Almanac.
In more modern Canadian divorces since about 1930, only certain documents are publicly available from a case file. Clearly, parts of the action/suit may be sensitive material especially if child custody was an issue. File numbers may be located by searching the indexes to procedure or judgment books of provincial superior court actions. It is only the superior court/s in each province which may grant a divorce. These courts may be known by different names, such as Supreme Court (meaning provincial, not federal), Court of Queen’s Bench, Superior Court of Justice, and so on. In most cases, the decree absolute can be obtained.
The federal Divorce Act now states there is only one ground for divorce: marriage breakdown.
There is a searchable database of divorces on the Library and Archives Canada website. The database states it covers 1841-1968 but it does not cover the entire date range in every province.
A second searchable index covering divorces to 1946 is located on the Hugh Armstrong’s Genealogy Site (maintained by CanGenealogy.com).
- Marriage – a state-recognized contract of lifelong union between a man and a woman.
- Dissolution – the act of terminating a legal relationship between two people in marriage.
- Divorce – the final ending of a marriage by Court order (Divorce Order).
- Decree nisi – a provisional divorce decision with no effect until a condition is met, such as the appearance of another petition, or a specific time period has elapsed; many jurisdictions no longer apply this Order.
- Decree absolute – the court Order representing the ending of the legal relationship between two people in marriage.
The illustration below shows a typical example of a parliamentary divorce act in the 1867-c1929 period. The Preamble describes the relevant information in the petition. The act itself granted:
- the dissolution of the marriage, and
- the petitioner’s right to marry again.
Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses Canadian Vital Statistics Records Part 2 offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about these courses or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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