Legality or formality?

When I went to the Hamilton Courthouse to be interviewed for the position of Marriage and Civil Union Celebrant for Ngaruawahia, I learnt quite a lot about the marital process. I had always thought that a ceremony had to abide by tradition with the father giving away the bride, the ‘I dos’, the vows, the exchanging of the rings, and of course, the last minute call for any objections before the big kiss at the end. The stuff you see in the movies. It turns out that I was wrong and those things were in fact mostly ‘optional’. In particular, I was greatly intrigued by the minimal amount of legal aspects which needed to be included. You may also be surprised to learn that when you get married, you are only required to ensure that 4 things are carried out once you have acquired a lawfully appointed celebrant:

1. A marriage license is obtained, correctly filled out, signed, and returned to the registry office following the ceremony (within 10 days).
2. Two witnesses are present.
3. Yours and your partner’s full names are used at some stage during the ceremony.
4. Each person agrees to take the other as their lawful husband/wife during the speaking of their vows.

Pretty straightforward, right?

If you have been to a myriad of wedding ceremonies as I have, you will have noticed how they vary from couple to couple. Some will choose to cover the bare minimum and ensure that the legal aspects take precedence, whilst others will include readings, poems and longer speaking parts to create a longer ceremony. Whatever you choose to include is completely up to you, as long as you are sure that the ceremony will create a legally binding union. So, over the next few blog posts, I will be taking the time to explain each of these legal aspects.

First of all, the marriage license is the essential piece of documentation which proves you are married after the big day. In New Zealand, a marriage license currently costs $122.60 and is available at the local registry office. Once obtained it lasts for 3 months, so we usually advise that couples leave this as close to the wedding as possible to organise. As the celebrant, it is my job to ensure that those named on the license are those actually getting married, which will mean that I take a look at both people’s birth certificates. If either one of the couple have been married or in a civil union previous to the marriage they wish to enter in to, they will also have to provide proof of separation to both the registry office and their celebrant.

Once obtained, the license (two copies of ‘Copy of Particulars of Marriage’ or a ‘Copy of Particulars of Civil Union’ and a return addressed envelope) is handed to the celebrant who will bring it on the big day for them, the couple, and the witnesses to sign following the ceremony. One copy will then be given to the couple, and the other will be passed to the registry office via the celebrant, who has 10 days to do so.  If a couple wishes to order a marriage certificate, they can simply fill out the form on the back of the Copy of Particulars. The certificate will be posted to them once the marriage or civil union is registered.

And that, my friends, is the basic ins and outs of a marriage license. Who knew that one piece of paper would require so much consideration? But this is what your celebrant is for; ask them questions when you are not sure and they will be able to clarify the process for you. You are never alone during the planning of your ceremony when it comes to the legal logistics – your celebrant is on hand to help too! 

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