Is Your Marriage Valid?
Recent media reports have drawn attention to the law surrounding marriage; specifically, whether a marriage is invalid if the vows have been said incorrectly. Its a scary thought for many supposedly wedded couples.
A close look at the law might help to relieve your fears.
The Marriage Act is the federal legislation governing marriage in Australia. Some of the rules are absolute, while others are a little more open to interpretation.
The definition of marriage in the Act reads, the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
You cant marry someone if you are married to someone else. You cant marry a sibling, or an ancestor or descendant. You must be at least 18, or have signed parental consent. A marriage is void if one party was coerced into it, mistaken about the other persons identity, unaware it was a marriage ceremony, or mentally incapacitated during the ceremony.
A marriage must be performed (solemnized) by a Minister of Religion for a recognised denomination (eg. a Catholic priest), or a registered Marriage Celebrant. The couple must sign a Notice of Intention to marry, at least a month before the wedding, and provide evidence of their age and a declaration that neither person is married. Two witnesses over 18 must be at the ceremony, and sign the marriage certificates, along with the couple and the Celebrant. The Celebrant officially registers the marriage.
In terms of the words used during the ceremony, a civil Marriage Celebrant is required to state the Acts legal marriage definition. In a civil service the vows should contain the following words, I call upon the persons here present to witness that I (X) take thee (Y) to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband), or words to that effect. (A religious Minister isnt required to follow this exact procedure, but must comply with that institutions requirements for marriage).
In other words, there is a loose interpretation of what must actually be said. The idea is that each party consents to marry the other in front of witnesses. So if you get cold feet and run out of the ceremony after youve consented, its generally too late!
To have a marriage declared invalid (annulled) one party would have to approach the Family Court and show that there had been a significant departure from legal procedure. The presumption is in favour of validity. Even if the Celebrant who performed the ceremony was unregistered, if the couple believed they were registered, the marriage will still be considered valid.
So in reality, having a marriage declared invalid is not that easy. While the Celebrant may be de-registered for not complying with the law, your marriage is probably safe.