Ontario court upholds dowry in unusual case

The groom’s parents demanded that she gave back the dowry consisting of 50% interest of the house they shared with her.
The groom’s parents demanded that she gave back the dowry consisting of 50% interest of the house they shared with her. (Illustration: iStock)

Is a dowry made before a marriage valid in Canada?

The Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a bride’s dowry though not for the reasons you might think.

In Canada, there are no legal entitlements to dowry and courts will usually not enforce them.

In an interesting twist, the bride got to keep her dowry.

The spouses’ meeting and marriage sounded like a fairy-tale at first: they met at university, fell in love and got married in a lavish Persian wedding just a year later.

Unfortunately the fairy-tale ended a year after they were married the bride moved out of the $1 million home she shared with the groom and his parents.

That is when the real trouble started. Angry that the bride had left the groom, the groom’s parents demanded that she gave back the dowry she received in the Deed of Gift consisting of 50% interest of the house they shared with her.

The parents explained that in Iranian tradition and culture a groom or his family are to give a dowry, also called a mahr, to the bride before the wedding.

An expert report from an Islamic scholar was also provided, that said that in “certain circumstances” a dowry is to be returned by the bride if the marriage fails.

The court saw the situation differently and found that the interest in the house that the bride was given was an “irrevocable, unconditional gift”.

The court explained that if the parents wanted to make it clear that the intent was that the dowry was to be returned in certain circumstances, it should have been made clear in the Deed of Gift, which wasn’t done.

Instead, references to a dowry were made in the marriage contract but not intent, which the court found problematic as it said, “If ambiguous references were enough to incorporate cultural practices and traditions into a real property transaction, as the appellants seek to do here, there would be a danger of underlying expectations and motivations arising from the cultural context easily becoming conflated with intention.”

The court looked at the evidence at hand and found that the parents had the intention to gift part of the house to the bride and there were no stipulations that the gift had to be returned upon breakdown of the marriage.

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