From a legal standpoint, marriage is a contract establishing rights and obligations of two individuals forming a couple to each other, to their children, and to their relatives.
Most laws in the Northwest Territories concern rights and obligations between spouses and their children. A spouse is someone who:
- is married to another person; or
- has lived in a marriage-like relationship with another person for two years; or
- has lived in a marriage-like relationship with another person for less than two years, but who has a natural or adopted child with that person.
A marriage-like relationship between two people who are not married is called a common-law relationship. A common-law relationship begins as soon as you are living together, but you have very few rights and obligations to each other until you are considered spouses.
Some federal laws recognize common-law relationships after different amounts of time; for example the Income Tax Act says that a couple can be recognized as common-law after living together for 12 months.
There are some restrictions around who can get married. You can only marry if you are not already married to someone else; if you have been married you must have a certificate of divorce or other proof that you are no longer married before you can get married again. You must be 19 to get married without parental consent.
Same-sex couples can legally marry.
Before you can get married, most people will need to apply for a marriage license from the Department of Health and Social Services. Alternatively, you can have a member of the clergy announce your intent to marry and do a publication of the banns for two consecutive weeks.
You must hold a legally recognized marriage ceremony presided over by a marriage commissioner such as a Justice of the Peace or a member of the clergy.
After the ceremony the presiding marriage commissioner will register your marriage with vital statistics to establish legal proof of your marriage. Registration is also required before you can be issued a marriage certificate, which is necessary if you want to change your last name as a result of the marriage.
Once married, you stay legally married until one of you dies, you divorce, or your marriage is annulled. You are still married even if your relationship is over and you are living apart - you must take legal steps to formally end the marriage.
The Department of Justice publishes an in-depth guide to family law in the Northwest Territories. This guide is an excellent source of information, and can provide you with more detailed information on marriage, the divorce process and other related legal considerations.