Quick Facts about Marrying in Australia

While getting married is quite simple (and the same rules apply regardless of where in Australia you choose to marry), there are certain things you must do in order for your marriage to be legal (and severe penalties, including prison terms of up to 10 years, for doing the wrong thing)
  • You must give at least one full month notice of your intention to marry (NB it is illegal to 'surprise' either the bride or groom - so both must freely consent, at every stage of the process, to the marriage and must agree as to the date on which the marriage will take place)
What this means is that
  • you must fill out a Notice of Intended Marriage form
  • you must sign it in front of your celebrant or one of the very short list of other qualified witnesses listed on page 4 (no, your best buddy can't witness your signature, nor can your pharmacist or most of the long list of persons who can witness a normal Statutory Declaration!)
  • you must lodge it with your celebrant at least one full  month  before your wedding but no more than 18 months before. NB the act of giving the Notice to your celebrant lodges it - and your celebrant then keeps your completed Notice safe until after the marriage has been solemnised. Only then is it sent in to Births, Deaths, and Marriages with the marriage papers you signed on the day so that your marriage can be registered
Special circumstances - There are a defined number of special circumstances in which a couple can apply to marry with less than one month's notice. These are situations such as terminal illness, or legal proceedings that are likely to result in one partner being sent to prison for more than 12 months. This is called shortening of time and is granted only after careful consideration by an official at Births, Deaths, and Marriages or a courthouse. Pregnancy or an expiring visa are not grounds on which shortening of time will be granted.
  • You must show documentary evidence of your birth and your identity
    Both bride and groom must show your celebrant a birth certificate or passport. These must be the actual document issued by a relevant government authority NOT a photocopy or copy certified by a JP. You must also show your celebrant photo ID. .
Special circumstances - Occasionally because of individual circumstances, there may be issues with a person's identity documents (or lack of them). This is where having an my experience as a celebrant and my in-depth understanding of the legal issues relating to allowable alternatives and possibilities pays dividends.
  • You must show documentary evidence that you are free to marry
    If you have been married before you must show your Divorce Certificate or the Death Certificate of your previous spouse, or a certificate of Nullity. A divorce certificate must make it clear that the divorce is final.
  • You must both sign declarations that no circumstances exist that would make your marriage illegal.
Requirements of the Marriage Act, 1961 for your marriage ceremony
These are the three things that must happen during your marriage ceremony in order for you to be legally married. And yes, you will see videos of ceremonies where the correct words aren't said, and you may even speak to celebrants who will be very casual about it all and tell you that you don't need to worry about that (because they don't understand the requirements of the Marriage Act). However, the truth is that if you don't comply then the legality of your marriage will be in doubt.
  • You must have 2 witnesses present
    You may have as many guests as you like, but 2 people, over the age of 18 must be designated as your legal witnesses. They also have to be able to understand what is going on and be present for the whole ceremony.
  • Your celebrant must recite a certain passage from the Marriage Act before you make your vows
    This includes the legal definition of marriage as being the union of a man and a woman
  • You must make vows using the specific words set out in the Marriage Act
    "I call upon the persons here present (OR I ask everyone here) to witness that I (Full Name) take you (Full Name) to be my lawful wedded husband/wife/spouse. It is these declarations that create your marriage, so you can't change them.
  • NB: In Australia you whether or not you include religious content in your civil marriage ceremony is a personal choice. Your celebrant cannot force you to include religion, nor is the celebrant allowed to include any religious content whatsoever without your express request.

You must also sign the Marriage Documents that are evidence that the marriage has taken place.

  • The bride's name on the certificate will be her maiden name (or the surname she has been currently using before the marriage). She signs in that name. 
Changing your name after marriage
It is not compulsory for married couples to share a surname. If you decide to change your name, however, this is how you do it.
  • Start using your new name as soon as you are married
  • Use your new name consistently
  • Obtain your official certificate from Births, Deaths, and Marriages (I'll give you the form and explain how to do this). The certificate will have your maiden name on it.  That's not a mistake and not a cause for concern as entities to which you will be presenting this certificate understand that, and will change the bride's surname to that of the groom on their records and on identity documents
  • Make photocopies of it and have them certified by a Justice of the Peace.
  • Change your personal records (Driver License/Proof of Age Card, Medicare Card, Passport, Electoral Roll, Bank Accounts, Superannuation, etc)

More on changing your name