Getting Married in Australia - What the Law Requires

As your authorised marriage celebrant, I not only provide a ceremonial service, I also provide a legal service.

To make sure your marriage is legal, your celebrant is required to ensure that you comply with the Marriage Act before solemnising your marriage. Celebrants are trained and retrained with compulsory refreshers every year as to the minute detail of the legal requirements. There is no wriggle room here. Non-compliance can mean your marriage is invalid, but it can also involve severe penalties, including jail time. So basically that means that the role of your celebrant is to tell you what you have to do (as per the Marriage Act), and yours is to do it if you want to be legally married!

Of course, seeing that the Marriage Act only specifies the legal aspects of a wedding, and most of that has to do with paperwork, proving your identity, and, in the ceremony, saying some precise words to create the contract of marriage between you, the look, feel, and content of the ceremony is yours and yours alone to decide. In a civil celebrant wedding your choice of what to include in your ceremony is infinite as long as you get the wording of the contractual statement each of you must make (the legal vows) right, your celebrant makes the required celebrant statement before you make those vows, and there are two adults present as the legal witnesses to the marriage.

Regardless of what form of wedding you choose to have, though, every couple must lodge a duly signed and witnessed Notice of Intended Marriage at least a month before the marriage takes place.

The world "lodge" probably causes more confusion/misunderstand than any other word associated with weddings. What it means is that you put the Notice into the hands of the person who is going to marry you. When you do that (and it can be done by email for the purpose of starting the clock ticking) the Notice is lodged - and it then stays in the custody of your celebrant until after the wedding at which time it is sent in to Births Deaths and Marriages in the State or Territory in which you had the ceremony, together with the paperwork you sign on the day. Births, Deaths, and Marriages is responsible for registering your marriage and maintaining the record of it.

Another issue that can cause a bit of angst is errors in the Notice. Not a problem, errors can be corrected after the Notice is signed, witnessed and lodged, but ONLY in the presence of your celebrant with both you and your celebrant initialing the changes - and no whiteout allowed!  This ensures that the Marriage Certificate is correct and you won't have any problems down the track.

Boring, yes. Critical, absolutely, and while different celebrants can and will offer you differing personal style, ideas, and ceremonial inclusions, every celebrant is going to give you identical legal service. They have to. It is the law!

This is what the Marriage Act requires of you

  • You must complete the Notice of Intended Marriage  accurately and fully and have your signatures witnessed by a qualified witness as listed on page 4 of the form. Most likely I will witness your signatures when we meet, but if you are coming from elsewhere and meeting is not an option, I will advise you about alternatives
  • You must give me your completed, signed and witnessed Notice of Intended Marriage at least one month before your wedding but not more than 18 months before. (I can witness your signatures)
  • Your must show me the required identification documents together with documents that prove how any previous marriage ended. These must be original documents as issued by an appropriate government authority (JP certified photocopies are not acceptable)
  • You must give me official English translations for any documents in another language
  • You must make vows to one another in the form required by The Marriage Act, 1961
  • You must have two adult witnesses present for the whole ceremony. These witnesses can be close relatives, friends, or strangers, but must be at least 18. They do not have to be Australian citizens or Australian residents

Real Consent

Both of you must give real consent to the marriage at every stage - both during the process leading up to the ceremony and in the ceremony itself. Real consent includes, but is not limited to:
  • Both members of the marrying couple giving accurate information on the Notice of Intended Marriage.
  • Both members of the marrying couple understanding the implications of a marriage solemnised in Australia
  • Both members of the marrying couple understanding what is going on in the ceremony and consenting to marrying each other. You must both be able to understand the ceremony itself and the explanations about the documents you are signing, including the declarations before the ceremony and the certificates afterwards
  • You must not be affected by drugs or alcohol. If I have any reason to believe that you may be affected by either it is against the law for me to continue with the wedding
  • You must be able to understand what is being said or shown to you. If I am not confident that you understand English sufficiently to fully understand what is being said and the documents you have to sign you must have an interpreter present
  • If you say or do anything that suggests that your consent is not real it is against the law for me to continue with the wedding - so no silly jokes!

More information