Guest Post: Safeguarding a Divorce Order Against Social Assistance Debt

(Note from Steven: I met John at the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia branch annual conference in San Francisco.  He is currently involved in some fascinating litigation representing an individual who sponsored a spouse only to watch her  immediately divorce him after she immigrated.  She also left him on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in social assistance payments.  I invited John to some write articles for this blog, and here is the third of what will hopefully be many into this issue.)

The issue of resolving a fraudulent marriage tied to an immigration application is completely separate from the need to get divorced. Fraudulent marriage is not grounds for a divorce and it is not necessary to prove that marriage was fraudulent in order to get a divorce. The issue of the fraudulent marriage can only be dealt with in civil court, not family, court as explained in an earlier post.

Generally speaking, it is understood that the sponsored spouse may receive social assistance or they may receive maintenance (i.e. spousal support), but they cannot receive both. Where the divorce order or separation agreement explicitly states that maintenance is not to be provided or has been provided in a lump sum payment, it can be argued that the sponsoring spouse should not be responsible for social assistance debt despite the undertaking.

It would be prudent for family law lawyers who represent a sponsoring spouse in a family matter to inquire about whether the sponsored spouse has received social assistance and determine for how long the sponsoring spouse is obligated by the undertaking to provide the necessities of life. Ideally, the divorce order should explicitly forbid the sponsored spouse from applying for social assistance during the term of the undertaking.

For sponsoring spouses who are getting divorced, it is prudent to bring the issue of social assistance debt to your lawyer’s attention and have it dealt with in the divorce order.

There may be a cause of action for professional negligence against the sponsoring spouse’s family law lawyer in a situation where a sponsoring spouse has obtained a divorce order and the order does not provide an indemnity against social assistance debt.

To successfully sue for negligence, a party must prove that:

  1. the plaintiff suffered a loss;
  2. the loss was caused by the defendant;
  3. the defendant’s conduct was a breach of the standard of care;
  4. the law recognizes that there was a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant;
  5. the defendant’s conduct caused the loss; and
  6. the plaintiff’s conduct did not contribute to the loss

In cases of professional negligence, it is necessary to prove that the lawyer failed to provide the standard of care expected of a reasonably competent lawyer. It is unclear whether such a cause of action would be successful, although an argument can be made that a family law lawyer does owe a duty to consider their client’s liability for social assistance debt in cases where the client sponsored their spouse’s immigration application. Where a sponsoring spouse does wish to sue to recover a loss caused by social assistance debt, they may wish to consider whether or not their family lawyer was negligent in providing them with advice.

– John Nelson was called to the British Columbia bar in 2011. He is a sole practitioner serving both Victoria and Vancouver in the practice areas of civil litigation, family law, and administrative law. He can be reached at

Guest Post: Suing your Spouse for Fraudulent Marriage

(Note from Steven: I met John at the Canadian Bar Association British Columbia branch annual conference in San Francisco.  He is currently involved in some fascinating litigation representing an individual who sponsored a spouse only to watch her  immediately divorce him after she immigrated.  She also left him on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in social assistance payments.  I invited John to some write articles for this blog, and here is the first of what will hopefully be many into this issue.)

Marriage fraud happens. You meet a nice person. They live in another country. You get along. They or one of their relatives suggest that you get married. So you get married. You sponsor your spouse’s immigration to Canada and sign an undertaking that you will supply the necessities of life for three years and pay any social assistance that that person takes from the government. All of a sudden, your new spouse leaves. And doesn’t come back. No explanation. No fight. It’s just over. You realize that they never had any intention of staying married. And in the worst case scenario, you get a bill three years later from the government for social assistance that your ex-spouse received without your knowledge or consent.

Where your spouse has separated from you and you suspect that the marriage was fraudulent, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:

  1. Inform Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Under new rules effective October 25th, 2012, a sponsored spouse who does not legitimately live with their spouse for two years may be deported.
  2. File for divorce.
  3. Find out if your spouse has applied for or is receiving social assistance.
  4. Consult a lawyer to determine if you can sue your spouse for fraudulent misrepresentation of marriage.

In 1985, the BC Legislature amended the Law and Equity Act to allow one spouse to sue another for damages. The causes of action are very limited, as much of the old common law on domestic relations was extinguished by statute. You can’t sue your spouse for damages for interfering with child access,[1] failing to pay child support,[2] being a jerk,[3] or having an extramarital affair.[4]

But the courts have held there are some causes of action that can proceed. One of them is fraudulent misrepresentation (tort of deceit) of marriage. In Raju v. Kumar,[5] a plaintiff wife successfully sued her husband on the grounds that he had fraudulently misrepresented his intent to be in a permanent marriage. The court found that the husband had a lover prior to meeting his wife, entered into the marriage as a means to enter Canada under his wife’s sponsorship, and that the husband was keeping open his option of either remaining in his country of origin with his lover or bringing her to Canada.

The wife received damages for the cost of pursuing the defendant’s immigration to Canada and $10,000 in damages for “hurt feelings, humiliation, inconvenience and postponement of the opportunity to marry another man while she was still capable of bearing children.”[6]  The four elements of the tort of deceit that must be proved at trial are: a false representation, knowledge of its falsity, an intent to deceive and reliance by the plaintiff with resulting damage.[7] These are hard facts to prove, but if it can be done, there may be a remedy in tort for your fraudulent marriage.

– John Nelson was called to the British Columbia bar in 2011. He is a sole practitioner serving both Victoria and Vancouver in the practice areas of civil litigation, family law, and administrative law. He can be reached at

[1] Frame v. Smith, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 99.

[2] Louie v. Lastman (2001), 199 D.L.R. (4th) 741 (O.S.C.J.)

[3] Kaddoura v. Hammond (1998), 168 D.L.R. (4th) 503 (O.C.-G.D.).

[4] Family Relations Act, R.S.B.C. 1996 c. 128 s. 123.

[5] Raju v. Kumar, 2006 BCSC 439.

[6] Ibid. at para. 88.

[7] Ibid. at para. 69.

Withdrawing a Spousal Sponsorship

The first question on the Application to Sponsor and Undertaking form asks…1) If you are found ineligible to sponsor, indicate whether you want to withdraw your sponsorship. All processing fees less $75 will be repaid OR to proceed with the application for permanent residence.
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Spousal Sponsorship Timeline

Canada’s spousal and common-law partner sponsorship programs have undergone significant changes in the past several years.  In a recent backgrounder to a press release, Citizenship and Immigration Canada published the timeline below.  The timeline is something that all practitioners should consider showing to clients who are interested in submitting a spousal or common-law partnership application.

In brief, all people considering the spousal or common-law partnership program should be aware of some conditions, undertakings, and restrictions which will apply to them after their application is approved.

In brief:

Year 0 – Applicant immigrates to Canada and becomes a permanent resident of Canada.  If the applicant was married or in a common-law partnership with the Canadian sponsor for less than two years prior to the couple submitting their sponsorship application (and they do not have children in common together) then the immigrant is a “conditional permanent resident” who has to stay married and live with the sponsor for a period of two years after the immigrant becomes a permanent resident.

Year 2 – The condition of staying married and living together with the sponsor is removed for conditional permanent residents.

Year 3 – The sponsor’s sponsorship undertaking ends.  The sponsor will no longer be liable to a level of government for any social assistance that the immigrant receives.  If the sponsor and immigrant have divorced or separated, the sponsor can now sponsor someone new.

Year 5 – If the immigrant and the sponsor have divorced or separated, the immigrant is now able to sponsor a new spouse or common-law partner.

So yeah, much thanks to CIC for this helpful chart.


Immigration Appeal Division Must Address Bona Fides Before H&C

The Federal Court has confirmed that s. 65 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act requires that the Immigration Appeal Division determine whether an applicant is a member of the Family Class before considering humanitarian & compassionate considerations (“H&Cs“).

Accordingly, people appearing before the Immigration Appeal Division in a Family Class appeal should be prepared to prove that the applicant is a member of the family class before arguing H&Cs.  This is the case even if the visa officer did not make a determination, or made a negative determination, regarding membership in the Family Class.

For example, if a visa officer rejects a spousal-sponsorship application on the basis of criminality, then at the Immigration Appeal Division the appellant must be prepared to demonstrate bona fides of the relationship prior to analyzing the inadmissibility, and any H&Cs to overcome it.


Significant Changes Coming to the Spousal-Sponsorship Program

Fresh off his efforts to crack down on crooked consultants, and having just introduced legislation to deter “bogus refugees,” Jason Kenney, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, is now focusing his scopes on deterring sham marriages.  He has made (or is in the process of making) two significant changes to Canada’s spousal-sponsorship program.  While both of his reforms will have its critics, the changes are likely to have the overwhelming support of the Canadian public, and continue the Conservative government’s trend of harmonizingCanada’s immigration system with other Western democracies.

The first change is a five-year sponsorship bar for recently sponsored spouses.  A previously-sponsored spouse will now be barred from sponsoring a new spouse or partner for the first five years that the previously sponsored spouse is a permanent resident.  The government’s objective is to prevent an individual who has been sponsored from divorcing the sponsor and shortly thereafter getting married and sponsoring someone else.

This change took affect on March 2, 2012.  If you were in the process of preparing a spousal-sponsorship application, and this change applies to you, then I’m sorry toinform you that there was no grace period. You will (likely) have to wait until you have been in Canadafor five-years before you can sponsor your spouse.

The second change is the introduction of conditional residency for certain spouses.  Spouses or common-law or conjugal partners who are in a relationship of two years or less with their sponsor will soon be subject to a period of conditional permanent residence.  The condition would require the sponsored spouse or partner to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with their sponsor for a period of two years following the acquisition of permanent residence status.  If this condition is not met, then the permanent resident and his/her dependents will lose their status inCanada, and be subject to removal proceedings.

There are two exceptions to the conditional permanent residency rule.  The first is if the sponsor and the sponsored spouse have a child together.   The second is if the sponsored spouse can demonstrate that he/she suffered abuse or neglect.  Abuse can be physical (assault and forcible confinement), sexual (sexual assault), psychological (threats and intimidation), and financial (fraud and extortion).   Neglect consists of the sponsor’s failure to provide the necessaries of life.

Implementing conditional permanent residency is expected to be an expensive endeavor.  Indeed, the government anticipates that the quantitative costs will exceed the benefits.  The Conservatives believe that it will cost $11-million to implement conditional permanent residency during its first ten years.  The costs include investigating cases of alleged fraud, taking enforcement action against those found to be non-complaint with the condition, and increased admissibility hearings and appeals.

The Conservative believe that the benefit will be $5.5-million during the same period.  The savings are expected to come from a reduction in spousal-sponsorship applications.

An additional benefit will hopefully be that Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be less scrutinizing of spousal-sponsorship applications.  In 2010, 46,300 couples submitted spousal-sponsorship applications.  Sixteen percent of applications were refused, primarily because the couples did not satisfy CIC that their relationships were genuine.  While some of the 84% of couples that were approved were likely sham marriages that slipped through the cracks, it is probable that an even greater number of genuine marriages were rejected.

The Immigration Appeal Division meanwhile recently released statistics showing that as of September 30, 2011, 6,399 spousal-sponsorship appeals were underway acrossCanada.  Each of these appeals takes up a serious amount of time and resources.

Presumably, once conditional permanent residency is in place Citizenship and Immigration Canada will be able to reduce the scrutiny that it apples to spousal-sponsorship applications.  For example, one would hope that an officer who has concerns about the genuineness of a relationship but is unsure will ultimately approve the application knowing that the principal applicant will have to cohabit in a conjugal relationship with the sponsor for two years or face removal.  Such a shift in mentality could greatly reduce processing times, save money, and decrease the burden on applicants.

Of course, whether or not there is actually a decrease in the burden on applicants will depend on how the government implements conditional permanent residency.  The proposed regulatory change is unclear as to whether immigrants have to be proactive in getting the condition removed, or whether the passage of time makes it automatic.  I shudder to think that all couples encompassed by the rule will have to submit new applications establishing the continuing genuineness of their relationship

Because of that is the case, then conditional permanent residency will be a far more expensive endeavor than the government is predicting.