How Legal is Your Marriage?

by Peter Magee on November 21, 2014

Peter Magee

In an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 7 October called “Celebrant’s Role One of Many Parts” Peta Doherty, Doherty explores the legalities of civil weddings in Australia and the role of the celebrant.

Doherty states: “When a wedding celebrant suggested Kylie and Daniel meet her at a McDonalds Restaurant to discuss their wedding ceremony, it didn’t make a good first impression.” 

Bride, Kylie Alexander stated her and her partner Daniel had to go through five celebrants before finding someone who “wanted to make our day special”. 

Kylie went on to say “Most of them just treated it like a business and didn’t try to get to know us at all.”

Gail Nagel, Vice President of Australian Marriage Celebrants Incorporated says “The industry attracts all sorts.” 

Doherty reports that civil ceremonies were introduced in Australia in 1973.  Today 70% of Australian marriages are performed by some 10,500 registered celebrants.  More than 3,000 of these are based in New South Wales.

Doherty reports that civil celebrants must complete a Certificate 4 in Celebrancy.  Many of these programs are offered by distance education.   Celebrants must complete 5 hours annual professional development with 1 of 3 preferred training organisations. 

Celebrant applicants must also show they are a “fit and proper person” and show that they have a good working knowledge of the 1961 Marriage Act.

Doherty states “Under the Act, registered celebrants are obliged to assess the authenticity of identification and marriage documents… they also have the responsibility of assessing that a couple are of sound mind, have the language capacity to understand what they are doing and have not been coerced into the agreement.” 

Despite the ethical, moral and legal responsibilities of the job, marriage celebrants say it is rare to even earn a full wage as a celebrant. 

A celebrant in the article, Gail Nagel, states that most average about 20 weddings per year, charging $350 to $1,000 per wedding.  That fee typically includes 1 or 2 meetings before the wedding, the ceremony rehearsal and preparation, as well as completing and submitting the legal documentation after the wedding.  Gail Nagel states “You can quite easily devote 30 hours to a wedding and that’s not an exaggeration.”

Given that there are low financial incentives in place for celebrants and the fact that such a large amount of time may be devoted for such a small fee, this does not set up favourable incentives for celebrants to be careful and thorough with the legal aspect of their work such as their responsibility to check that a couple are of sound mind, have language capacity to understand what they are doing, and have not been coerced into the agreement.

This is not to say that celebrants do not take such care, but I am concerned that financially given the minimal wage they would earn per hour, there may be incentives to speed quickly through “getting to know” the couple as Kylie Alexander suggested above. 

This might include speeding quickly through the legal aspects of consent, if there is coercion or duress or if the couple are mistaken about the nature of the ceremony and so forth.

If you have any questions about your marriage or about divorce please contact us at Armstrong Legal on (02) 9261 4555 to book your initial obligation free appointment.

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