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Wedding Legalities

The following information is available at the official site of the Australian Marriage Celebrants Program. Anything you read elsewhere that is inconsistent with this site is not accurate.

Finding the right marriage celebrant

Your wedding day is one of the most important days of your life. Choosing the right marriage celebrant will make sure your day is a memorable one.

You should ensure your proposed celebrant is authorised as a marriage celebrant under the Marriage Act 1961 by checking the Register of Marriage Celebrants or the List of Authorised Marriage Celebrants. You will find marriage celebrants from religious organisations as well as celebrants from non-recognised denominations on the list of authorised marriage celebrants. You might also like to contact the relevant marriage celebrant association in your area or have a look in the Yellow Pages.

You should make an appointment to meet a celebrant if you are uncertain. It is also advisable to confirm your wedding arrangements in writing in plenty of time before the day.

Marriage celebrants are encouraged to offer a choice of ceremonies where this is appropriate, or assist the couple in writing their own. You should feel comfortable with your celebrant and feel confident that he/she suits your needs and will complement your special day.

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Providing notice of your intended marriage

Lodgement

Within 18 months of your proposed marriage, and no later than one month and one day prior to it, you must give a completed Notice of Intended Marriage form to the authorised marriage celebrant who is to conduct your marriage ceremony. All marriage celebrants should have the necessary paper work to perform your marriage.

You will need your birth certificates (originals) and evidence that any prior marriage has been dissolved by either death or divorce.

Shortening of Time

It is possible to shorten the minimum notice time for a marriage to less than a month if the special circumstances set out in the Marriage Regulations 1963 are met. You will need to approach a Prescribed Authority for approval. See the link on the right hand side of this page.

Prescribed authorities (usually at your Local Court or Registry officials) can shorten the required period of notice if they are satisfied that the circumstances prescribed in the Regulations are met.

The five categories of circumstances set out in the Regulations. These are:

    1. Employment–related, or other travel commitments
    2. Wedding or celebration arrangements, or religious considerations 
    3. Medical reasons
    4. Legal proceedings, and
    5. Error in giving notice.

The reason for wanting a shortening of time for notice must fall within one of these categories.  There is no capacity to grant a shortening of time outside these circumstances.  Shortening of time is not automatic.  When making a decision, the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) or a prescribed authority will weigh up the information provided in support of your application and may seek additional information as outlined in the Regulations. You should have the documentation that supports your request before approaching a prescribed authority.

Transfer

If for some reason you need to change your marriage celebrant, it is the responsibility of the first marriage celebrant to ensure the Notice of Intended Marriage form is transferred safely to the second celebrant by hand or registered post. You must ask the celebrant to transfer the notice for you.

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Fees

Marriage celebrants authorised by the Australian Government Attorney-Generals Department are entitled to charge for any services that they provide. Fees for weddings are not fixed and may vary from marriage celebrant to marriage celebrant. Make sure you reach an agreement on the fees before asking the celebrant to hold a date.  You should also ensure you understand which charges are non-refundable and obtain a written statement of all fees and charges.

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Participating in a marriage ceremony

People who are not authorised marriage celebrants may participate in aspects of a marriage ceremony. However, there are several legal requirements before, during and after the ceremony that can only be fulfilled by an authorised marriage celebrant. 

At the ceremony, the authorised marriage celebrant must:

  • consent to be present as the responsible authorised marriage celebrant 
  • take a public role in the ceremony
  • identify themselves to the assembled parties, witnesses and guests as the celebrant authorised to solemnise the marriage 
  • be responsible for ensuring the validity of the marriage, according to law
  • say the words required by section 46 in the presence of the parties, the formal witnesses and the guests before the marriage is solemnised 
  • be in close proximity (ie nearby) when the vows required by subsection 45(2) are exchanged. It is the exchange of vows that constitutes the marriage and the authorised celebrant must see and hear the vows being exchanged 
  • be available to intervene (and exercise the responsibility to intervene) if events demonstrate the need for it elsewhere in the ceremony 
  • be part of the ceremonial group or in close proximity to it; and 
  • sign the papers as required by the Act.

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Getting married overseas

For information on getting married overseas please contact the Embassy or other diplomatic mission of the country concerned. If that country requires you to get a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, contact the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on (02) 6261 3644.

For more information, please visit the Smart Traveller website.

Marriage to a relative

The Marriage Act prohibits people marrying:

  • an ancestor or descendant; or
  • their brother or sister (whether whole blood or half-blood siblings)

These restrictions also apply to adoptive relationships even if these have been annulled, cancelled, discharged or cease to be effective for any reason (for example, a subsequent adoption order being made).

This means, for example, that a person cannot marry their parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother or sister. However, (depending of course on the gender of the party) a person may marry their aunt or uncle, niece or nephew or ‘first’ cousin.

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Same-sex commitment ceremony

Subsection 5(1) of the Marriage Act 1961 defines marriage as ‘...the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’ Accordingly, it is not possible for same-sex couples to marry under Australian law and same-sex marriages entered into under the laws of another country are also not recognised in Australia.

It is not illegal to conduct a commitment ceremony for same-sex couples, though, provided that ceremony does not purport to be a legal marriage.

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Change of gender

In his decision in the case of Re Kevin, Chisholm J of the Family Court decided that a post-operative transsexual female to male person is a ‘man’ for the purposes of the Marriage Act and was able to enter into a valid marriage with a woman.  On 21 February 2003, the Full Court of the Family Court upheld the original decision. 

The decision of the Full Family Court to uphold the original decision does not affect the definition of marriage in Australia as ‘...the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life’.  The parties to a valid marriage must be a man and a woman.  The issue in this case was the status to be assigned to ‘Kevin’ who had undergone sexual reassignment surgery and who had been issued with a new birth certificate reflecting his gender as a male.  The decision is only applicable to post-operative transsexuals.

This decision means that a person who has undergone gender re-assignment surgery can  marry as their reassigned gender as long as they fall within the parameters set down in the decision in Re Kevin.

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The Certificate of Marriage to be issued to couples (Form 15)

A marriage celebrant must issue a prescribed Form 15 marriage certificate to you after your wedding as evidence of your marriage. Your marriage celebrant prepares three certificates of marriage containing the details of your marriage and you and your witnesses will be required to sign all three. 

They are:

  • the certificate retained by the marriage celebrant for their records; 
  • the certificate that will be forwarded to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the registration of your marriage; and 
  • the certificate that will be given to you as a record of your marriage.

How can we be sure we have been given the official certificate?

The official certificate must be exactly as prescribed in the Marriage Regulations 1963. To see a sample of the prescribed Form 15 certificate use the link on the right hand side of this page.

You will see that it bears the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and a pattern on the front, and a number on the back that is unique to each certificate (and is traceable), but the security features of the new certificate will not be visible. These features make your marriage certificate significantly more secure as an official document because they protect it against alteration and reproduction.

While a certificate of marriage is not a proof of identity document, it is evidence of your change in marital status and in some situations (e.g. when applying for an Australian passport) you may be asked to produce a registered copy of it.

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Making a complaint

A mechanism has been developed to deal with complaints against marriage celebrants. If a complaint is found to be justified, sanctions may include a caution, a requirement that further professional development be undertaken, up to six (6) months suspension or deregistration.

Marriage celebrants have a right to be advised of a complaint against them and to put whatever material they think appropriate to the Registrar in their defence.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2011.

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