Getting Married?  What You Should Know

Legal Requirements to Marry in Australia

Marriage Act 1961

In Australia, the federal government regulates marriage through the Marriage Act 1961 and the Marriage Regulations 1963.

If you’re planning on getting married in Australia, the legal requirements are the same. You don’t have to be an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia to marry in Australia.

If you’re from a country outside Australia, please check to see if your country needs its Embassy to grant you permission before you get married, in order for them to recognise your Australian marriage as per the legal requirements.

How is Marriage Defined in Australia?

The Marriage Act 1961 defines marriage as ‘the union of two people to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life’. This new definition became law on 9 December 2017. State and territory governments have been required to align their laws and regulations with this new definition. (At the time marriage equality became law in Australia, some state-based laws and regulatory requirements made it more difficult for some members of the LGBTQIA community to assert their right to get married than the majority of the population. That has now been fixed.)

Minimum Legal Requirements to Marry in Australia

To be married in Australia, you must:

  1. Not be married to someone else

  2. Not be marrying a parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, brother or sister (including by adoption)

  3. Be at least 18 years old, unless a court has approved a marriage where one party is between 16 and 18 years old. Approval will not be given if both parties are below 16 years

  4. Understand what marriage means

  5. Freely consent to getting married

  6. Use specific words during the ceremony

  7. Give your celebrant written notice of your intention to marry, within the required time frame.

(I clarify this further in the next section.)

Legal Steps to Getting Married in Australia

Step 1

Complete and sign the Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM)

You will need to satisfy your celebrant that you and your partner are who you say you are. The evidence which is needed is - 

  1. Evidence of your place and date of birth and evidence of your identity. You can use your passport for this, if you have one, or you can provide your driver’s licence and birth certificate).

  2. If one or both of you were married previously, evidence of your divorce or death of a previous partner is required. If you have been married more than once, then you only need to provide evidence of the most recent divorce or the death of your most recent partner.

Step 2

You will need to sign the Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage form (DONLIM) as close as possible to your wedding day.  The DONLIM is a legal declaration that both of you are of marriageable age, are not in a prohibited relationship, are not married to someone else, and are not aware of any other legal impediment to your marriage taking place. Often, celebrants will get you to sign the DONLIM at a wedding rehearsal within the week before your wedding. Some celebrants might ask you to sign it immediately before your wedding ceremony on the day of your wedding. It is unlawful for you to sign the DONLIM after your marriage ceremony has taken place.

Step 3

On the day of your wedding, immediately after your marriage ceremony, you, your two witnesses and your celebrant will sign three marriage certificates. Two of these are the Official Certificate of Marriage and the other is a Certificate of Marriage (also called a Presentation Certificate). After you, your two witnesses and the celebrant have signed all three certificates, the celebrant will hand you the Certificate of Marriage – it is a record of your marriage that you can keep.

Celebrant Responsibility

Within 14 days of the marriage, your celebrant must provide your paperwork (the NOIM, the Declaration and one of the Official Certificates of Marriage) to the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the jurisdiction where the marriage took place, so they can register your marriage. (Your celebrant must keep one copy of the Official Certificate of Marriage in a secure place for 6 years).

When the Registry has registered your marriage, you can apply for a copy of the registered Official Certificate of Marriage through the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the state or territory where you got married. Your celebrant will likely inform you when your marriage has been registered.

About the NOIM

Both parties to the marriage need to tick one of three boxes that best describes them: ‘groom’, ‘bride’ or ‘partner’. It’s up to each party to decide which option they want to use to describe themselves. For example, it’s completely fine for a person who identifies as a male to tick ‘bride’ or a person who identifies as a female to tick “groom”.

Your celebrant will be willing to help you complete the NOIM form and is able to witness the documents as well.   If you have completed the NOIM independently, then ask one of the following to witness your signatures: a police officer (Australian Federal Police or state / territory police), a barrister or solicitor, a legally qualified medical practitioner (note: this doesn’t include a pharmacist or dentist), or a Justice of the Peace. You can then post it or email it to your marriage celebrant. 

If you’re living outside Australia and are planning on getting married in Australia, then when you’ve finished completing the details in the NOIM, you can either get your signatures witnessed by an Australian Consular Officer, and Australian Diplomatic Officer, a notary public, an employee of the Commonwealth authorized under paragraph 3(c) of the Consular Fees Act 1955, or an employee of the Australian Trade Commission authorized under paragraph 3(d) of the Consular Fees Act 1955.

Your celebrant must receive your NOIM no later than one month before your wedding day. The lifespan of the NOIM is 18 months – that is, you can get married at any time between one month and eighteen months from when your celebrant receives your signed and witnessed NOIM.

Getting Married Overseas?

Marrying Abroad

If you’re planning to get married overseas, remember you can’t then come back to Australia and get married again. You can have a commitment ceremony, or a renewal of vows ceremony back here in Australia but whoever conducts that ceremony must make it clear to all who attend it that the ceremony is not a legal marriage ceremony.

If you want to get married overseas and want to involve a marriage celebrant from Australia, you need to be aware that marriage celebrants authorised in Australia can only perform legal marriages within Australia. Some overseas destinations – eg the USA – may allow Australians (including Australian celebrants) to meet their requirements to become an officiant and perform legal marriage ceremonies – but you need to carefully consider what those requirements are and be satisfied with the legalities of doing so, before proceeding. An alternative is to have an authorised marriage celebrant marry you in Australia before you head overseas and then you can have a “wedding” – without the legal vows – in your chosen overseas destination, along with a celebration, perhaps.