What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas…Unless You Get Married

April 27, 2016
Leisha Murphy

Like all good love stories, this one starts in the wee hours of the morning at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. A man and a woman (both Canadian residents), having known each other for a solid two hours, decided to formally pledge their love for one another after a night of drinking.

At 4:20 a.m. they 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 love stories involving Vegas and excessive alcohol consumption, 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, once she got home to BC, the “wife” went to court in an attempt to get the marriage declared null and void.  She argued that the marriage was void either because she was drunk at the time and did not know what she was doing and/or because it was never consummated.

You can get out of many an awkward situation by claiming you were drunk and did not know what you were doing.  Unfortunately, an unwanted Vegas marriage is not one of them. The threshold for having the necessary capacity to enter a marriage contract is very low and easy to meet. Under BC law, a person need only 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 the marriage was not consummated.  This was not sufficient under BC law, 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 BC 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 BC 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.

The moral of this story: Next time you go to Vegas, remember, a night of drunken revelry could leave you with more than a hangover and an empty wallet.

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

Leisha Murphy
Leisha Murphy
Partner (Vancouver)
Connect Family Law

Leisha has practised exclusively in the area of family law since being called to the British Columbia Bar in 2010. Before opening Connect Family Law in 2015, she practiced in the family law group of a leading British Columbia law firm.