The first federal Divorce Act was passed by Parliament in 1968, establishing a uniform divorce law across Canada. Before that, there were different laws relating to divorce in different provinces.
From 1840 to 1968, many divorces in Canada were granted by private acts of the Parliament of Canada. Before 1867, only five divorce acts were passed and published either in the Statutes of the Province of Canada or in the Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada.
From 1867 to 1968, in some provinces a person wishing to obtain a divorce was first required to place a notice of intent to petition the government for an Act of Divorce in the Canada Gazette and in two newspapers in the district or county where the petitioner resided. It was to appear for a six-month period.
The petition would contain details such as the date and place of the marriage, and events surrounding the demise of the marriage. In the case of adultery or bigamy, a co-respondent was often named. If the petition was allowed, Parliament would pass an Act of Divorce nullifying the marriage.
Between 1867 and 1963, a transcript of the Act was published in the Statutes of Canada for the current year. Between 1964 and 1968, the transcript was published in the Journals of the Senate of Canada.
The transcripts include this information from the petition:
- the names of petitioner and spouse;
- their place(s) of residence;
- the date and place and marriage; and
- the grounds under which the divorce is being sought.
This database contains 12,732 references to the transcripts of the acts of divorce published in:
- Statutes of the Province of Canada
- Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada
- Statutes of Canada
- Journals of the Senate of Canada.
Each volume was consulted in order to identify the names of the petitioner, of the spouse and the citation number for each act.
The search screen enables you to search by:
- Surname of Petitioner
- Given Name(s) of Petitioner
- Surname of Spouse
- Given Name(s) of Spouse
Some entries include only an initial for the given names. Try searching by surname only. Women are identified by maiden name if the maiden name was provided in the divorce act.
How to interpret the results
Your search results will be posted as a list showing the following fields:
- Name of Petitioner (surname and given name)
- Name of Spouse (surname and given name)
- Reference (extracted from various official publications of the Government of Canada)
- Year (the issue of the specific publication in which the act was published)
- Citation (the number of the private act).
How to obtain copies of divorce acts
Libraries in Canada
Many libraries in Canada hold copies of the official publications of the Government of Canada that contain the acts. Each act consists of one page in English and French.
You can use the AMICUS catalogue to find out which libraries hold copies of specific publications. Click on a publication below. In AMICUS, click on "Locations," then on the library code on the left column to obtain details such as address and contact information.
Library and Archives Canada
Some of the above publications are digitized on the free website Internet Archive. In the search box, enter the keywords from the name of the publication and the year (e.g. Acts Parliament Canada 1910).
If you cannot find an Act online, you can order copies from Library and Archives Canada by using the Order Form for Photocopies and Reproductions. Include the complete database entry, as well as the publication title and Amicus number from the above list.
Senate of Canada
The Senate of Canada holds the original divorce files, but they are closed to the public under privacy legislation. You can obtain a certified copy of a divorce act for legal purposes from them:
Senate of Canada
Office of the Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel
40 Elgin Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A4
People who need information about where to obtain copies of their own divorce cases, from 1968 to the present, can contact the Central Registry of Divorce Proceedings. Please note that privacy legislation prevents the release of information to persons other than the two parties involved.
Index to Canadian Parliamentary Divorces 1826-1946
Divorce proceedings were also handled by provincial courts. For recent divorces, the records may still be held by the court where the divorce was handled. Older court records are usually held in the provincial and territorial archives. See the following websites for more information:
Provincial Archives of Alberta: Frequently asked questions
Divorce records at the BC Archives PDF 824 KB
The Manitoba Archives holds the records of the Court of Queen's Bench Divorce Court.
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick holds Records of the Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, 1847-1979 (RS58).
Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador
Nova Scotia Archives: Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes, 1759-1960
Divorce records created after July 1968 are in the custody of the:
Northwest Territories Courts
Divorce records from 1968 to 1999 are in the custody of the Northwest Territories Courts (see above). Inquiries about later records should be addressed to Nunavut Courts.
Archives of Ontario: Finding Divorce Files in Ontario PDF 512 KB
Prince Edward Island
The Prince Edward Island Public Archives and Records Office holds divorce records from 1835 to 1976. Indexes and later records are held at the Louis Henry Davies Law Courts.
Before 1968, the Quebec civil code made no provision for divorce. Divorce could be obtained only from a private act of the Parliament of the Government of Canada. However, legal separations between spouses were made by notaries. The notarial records held at Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) are being digitized. See Archives des notaires du Québec des origines à 1935 (French only). Note that the records are arranged by the name of the notary.
Starting in 1867, a judgement in Separation from bed and board could be obtained from the Cour supérieure du Québec. A notice of action was published in the Gazette officielle du Québec. The search page is in French only, but some of the records are in English. Each notice includes the names of petitioner and spouse, the name of the court and district and the cause number.
Divorce records after 1968 are in the custody of the regional courthouses.
The Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan holds the Court of King’s Bench Records from 1870 to 1930, which include divorce records. After 1930, the records are held at the courthouse where the divorce was handled. See Courts of Saskatchewan.
The Yukon Archives holds divorce records prior to 1950. Consult the Inventory to the Records of the Yukon Government, YRG1, Series 11, Territorial Court Records, 1897-1950 PDF 2.01 MB . Later records are still in the custody of the Yukon Courts.
Some Canadians travelled to the United States to obtain a divorce there. Some divorce records and/or indexes are available online. On the free website FamilySearch, enter the search term Divorce in the Find a Collection box. On the subscription website www.ancestry.com, go to the Card Catalog and enter Divorce in the Title box.