Meet Sarah Aird, a Marriage Celebrant who has officiated hundreds of weddings and CEO of Life Skills Training as a Celebrant trainer.
My name’s Sarah Aird, I’ve been a celebrant for almost seven years now, I think I’m at six years, 11 months coming up to seven year and I’ve been performing weddings and funerals since January 2014, which has been super cool.
I also train celebrants in our ongoing professional development requirements, we have to do five hours a year and I train celebrants in that and I also train people who are Aspiring celebrants in the Certificate 4. I own one of the RTOs that teaches that Celebrant course.
The process to get married in Australia is actually relatively simple. All you have to do is book Celebrant; that’s really important. And you need to book them at least a month before your wedding ceremony. The reason for that is that you need to lodge a Notice of Intended Marriage with your chosen celebrant no later than one month before the wedding day. It can be lodged any time up to 18 months before the wedding, but one month is the latest deadline.
You also need to show your celebrant some documentation. You need to show them a passport or better yet to prove when and where you were born. And you need to show them a form of photo ID to prove that you are who you say you are. And if you’ve been married before, you need to show them some form of documentation that proves that that previous marriage has been terminated. So either a divorce or get a death certificate, or annulment; that’s pretty rare in Australia.
But you may have one, you just never know. So, there are things that you need to give to your Celebrant or show yourself ahead of time. A lot of celebrants will help you fill in the notice of intended marriage (NOIM) because it is a little bit tricky, it does have some weird nuances that you need to have a bit of background knowledge to understand how they should be filled in. So a lot of Celebrants will help you with that process. They might send you a questionnaire to fill out. And then they’ll create the document for you. That document has to be signed in the presence of an authorized witness, and those witnesses are not the same people who can witness a Stat Declaration. A lot of people get confused about that, So, the witnesses, If you are signing that NOIM in Australia: they are a doctor, a lawyer, Justice of the peace, a police officer, or celebrant.
So, yeah, lots of Celebrants will help you out with doing it, doing that as well. Then, you, just before the ceremony, sometimes, at the rehearsal, if you have one, sometimes just on the day of the wedding, you need to sign another document, which is called the Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage, and that’s your last opportunity to declare to your celebrant that there is no legal reason you can’t get married. You’re not married to someone else, You’re not in a prohibited relationship with your partner. Which means you’re not brother and sister. You’re not Parent and child. You’re not Grandparent and grandchild.
You can be aunt and nephew or uncle and niece or nephew or even cousins story that is legal. It also says that you are over 18. And that there’s no other legal reason that you can’t get married, so your Celebrant will fill that in for you. And they’ll point where to sign, they’ll tell you.
Then on the day, the absolute bare minimum legally required bits for a ceremony include 124 words. The celebrant says, something the couple both say something, then you sign three marriage certificates, and you’re done.
That’s it. That is getting married legally in Australia.
And everything else is a wedding.
So, rings and being walked down the aisle and Bridesmaids and Grooms, Grooms mates and Brides men, and cake and dancing. And a reception and dress, and all of that stuff is a wedding.
Pete The Celebrant: What about objections?
Sarah Aird: Also, not required, let’s leave that out, nobody wants that.
Pete The Celebrant: Do you need to say “I Do” to be married in Australia?
Sarah Aird: Also saying “I Do” is not a legal requirement in Australia to be married.
The NOIM is the first document that needs to be lodged with a Celebrant at least one calendar month before the ceremony date.
So even if you sign it a month before the wedding, but then you hang onto it and you don’t actually give it to your celebrant which is what ‘lodging’ means until two weeks before the wedding. It’s too late then. It needs to be lodged with your celebrant at least a month before.
We used to have to hold it physically in our hand. But last year, the Attorney General’s Department who manages the Marriage Act Celebrant section, they went ahead and applied the Electronic Transactions Act to the Marriage Act which says that if a document needs to be produced, it can be produced in hardcopy paper form or an electronic copy. So you can take a photo or a scan of your own signed and witness name and e-mail or text to your celebrant by a month out and that’s good to go. That’s all that’s required, which is really great.
In terms of the way we have the timeframe, I’m not entirely sure why the 18-month thing occurs, I’m guessing it’s something to do with a lot of weddings, a planned within that 12 to 18 month period. So it’s unlikely that people would want to be signing it much before then.
And it probably expires, because couples need the opportunity to really re-assess whether or not they still want to get married, I guess if they’ve been hanging on to it for that long. So I’m guessing that’s why it expires. In terms of why we have a month’s notice period, We have one of the longest notice periods in the world. And it’s really to make sure that the couple is really sure that this is what they want to do. I’ve had more than one couple who have lodged annoyed with me.
And then they’ve broken up in the ensuing two weeks because that piece of paper filling in that piece of paper and handing it to a celebrant really makes it kind of come home that this is serious mm light. We’re actually doing something really legal and serious here. And so do I really want to do this? And some couples figure out at that point that, no, they don’t really want to do this. So that’s why we have a month’s notice period so that you have time to really think about it. I think that it’s a little bit like a cooling-off period when you buy a little bit longer in a cooling-off period person who you buy everything with for the rest of your life, So I think that 30 days to think about that.
Pete The Celebrant: What does on calendar month mean?
Sarah Aird: I’m not gonna go into the really long tangent of definition that I go into when I’m teaching my celebrants. But for the majority of you, all you need to know is, if you want to get married on the 15th of the month, you need to lodge it by the 15th of the month before. So generally, it’s day to day. You want to get married on the third of the month. You need to launch it with your celebrant by the third of the month before. Now. When I say lodge, I literally mean give it to your Celebrant, whether it has to be signed and obviously witness has to be signed and witnessed And it needs to be given to your Celebrant in hardcopy or electronic copy.
We don’t then lodge it somewhere else. We hang onto it until after the wedding
Pete The Celebrant: What about couples overseas? Can they get married in Australia? Is the process different?
Sarah Aird: Not at all, it’s super easy for couples who leave overseas to get married in Australia. You don’t have to have a special visa or anything like that. You don’t have to live here for a certain period of time. You can literally fly in on the morning of your wedding, get married, and fly out again that same day. I don’t know why anybody would want to do that, but it is actually possible. You should be in touch with your celebrant by via Zoom, or via phone or e-mail, to lodge the notice with them at least a month before and to plan your ceremony and all those sorts of things.
But, in terms of actually being in the country, you can just fly into it fly out. The process is no different. You still have to lodge your NOIM at least a month before. You still have to show the same documents to your Celebrant, possible, to prove your date and place of birth, photo ID for your identity, and proof of the determination of a previous marriage. And you can do all of those electronically as well. And you still need to sign the declaration of no legal impediment to marriage, but you can do that when you get here. So, there’s no difference. It’s really easy. There are no problems at all.
Pete The Celebrant: Do Couples have to keep the original? So if they send it, say, via a photo text, do they have to keep the original and hand it to the celebrant?
Sarah Aird: They don’t. However, I always recommend that my couples do, just because I like to have the original document. It’s not required. Although you should always check with your celebrate, if you are watching it with them electronically, by photo, or by scan, you need to check with them that they can read it. Because they need to be able to read it. And they need to be able to record information on it. So they might print it out themselves and record information on it. So it needs to be legible. And it needs to be easy to understand so that it can, and then it needs to be lodged with the government after the wedding goes ahead. So, I like to get the original, but it’s not required.
Notice of Intended Marriage, page 3
So in terms of the documents that are required by the Marriage Act, celebrants are required to see, at least a passport or a birth certificate, to prove date and place of birth. Now, if you can’t find it, you can just get another one.
Super easy. So you just jump onto the website of the registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in the state in which you were born, if you’re born in Australia. And you just apply for a new copy of your birth certificate, and they posted it out to you. So it’s pretty simple to get yourself a new birth certificate. If you were born overseas, it might be a little bit trickier, but, unfortunately, that’s not an excuse not to have it.
So, just because it might be difficult or it might take time or it might cost money, is not a reason for not producing a birth certificate or passport. You need to produce one of those documents before you can get married. There are very few circumstances under which a party to a marriage does not is, it’s actually impossible to get one of those documents maybe because they came to Australia as a refugee and those documents no longer exist. So in those very, very rare circumstances, they can produce a statutory declaration as proof of their date and place of birth, but that’s really rare.
I’ve done nearly 400 weddings and I’ve only had that once, yes, so it’s very, very rare.
In terms of photo ID, the preference is a driver’s license or passport, or you can get one of those proof of Age keycard, Codd Thingies from the post office. So that’ll take a few weeks to come, but you can definitely go get one of those.
Alternatively, if you really don’t have any photo ID, you can produce a bunch of other documents that have your name and address on them, and the celebrant can make an assessment as to whether or not they’re happy to accept those as proof of your identity.
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So, there are five very specific circumstances that are laid out in the marriage regulations 19, 2017, under which, a couple can apply for a shortening of time.
So they would need to apply to a prescribed authority to say, we come under one of these circumstances for whatever reason. And that prescribed authority can waive the one month’s notice period. There are five pretty specific circumstances though, and not many couples fit the requirements. So the circumstances are employment-related or other travel conditions.
So, one of you might have got a job in the US, and, in order to, for both of you to go together, you need to be married, because you can’t. The other partner can’t work, blah, blah, blah. And, if they need to be there in less than a month, then you can get a shortening.
There is a wedding and other celebration arrangements. So, that’s where the couple have booked everything. They booked the whole entire wedding, but they didn’t know they needed to book a celebration at least one month before the ceremony, because, again, they grew up watching American movies, and in the states, you can just get married the next day. So, that’s the second one.
The third one is medical reasons, and that is where one of the couple or a very close family member is literally dying. So, if they are suffering from a serious illness, which means they will not be able to be at the wedding if it takes place in more than one month, so we’re really looking at going to be dead in less than a month. I know that sounds really harsh, and sometimes, when I’ve said it, I’ve had couples ring me and say, We’d like to get a shortening of time under illness. And I say, Is one of you dying?
The fourth one is legal proceedings if one of you is going to prison, and you’d like to get married beforehand, and the fifth one is where the celebrant has made a mistake. So if the celebrant has not given you the right advice or if the celebrant has lost generate software as being lodged. So very specific circumstances to get married in less than one month.
Sarah Aird doing what she loves
You sign three marriage certificates. One, that the couple gets to take home with them. That’s the pretty one.
The one that is for the Celebrants records, and that might be a big, red book, or it might be loose, and then, one, that gets sent to the registry of BDM to register the marriage.
So there are kind of three important parties to this marriage. There’s the actual people who are getting married. They get one. There’s the Celebrant who is performing the marriage, they keep one for their own records, and there’s the registry of BDM, who need to register the marriage. So they need a copy, as well.
So three on the day.
Then, if you want to change your name, or you want to do various other things that require you to prove that you’re married, you need to apply for your official certificate from BDM. And that will come generally, 4 to 6 weeks after the wedding after you’ve applied for it.
The difference between the two marriage certificates, the one you get on the day, and the one that comes from BDM is that the one that you get on the day is proof that the marriage ceremony took place.
That is the only thing it’s proof of. But that’s a really important document because if, for whatever reason, pate didn’t send in your marriage documents to BDM And it never got registered, That document you got on the day is the only proof you have that the ceremony actually went ahead.
But you can’t use that to change your name or anything like that. It is a legal document. It can’t be replaced. It should go in a frame on the wall. It is important.
Then, the one that you get from BDM is a little bit like a birth certificate.
It is essentially a copy of the information that the Registry of Business Marriages has, on their register of marriage. And that’s the one that you can use to prove your identity, to change your name to prove that you’re married. That one essentially says that the government knows about this marriage now, they’ve registered the marriage and made it all official and all those sorts of things. So that’s the one that is allowed to be used.
Sarah making ceremonies great!
So when you change your name through marriage, you’re not going through a legal change of name process. You don’t apply to BDM for them to change your name forever. You always have access to your birth name.
When you change your name through marriage, you change it through usage. So basically, what you do is you get your official certificate from BDM, which will be in both of your birth names.
There’s no point at which, you say, I’m going to be changing my name later, and then they put your marriage to be, get in, You’re married name. That’s not how it works. You know, Marriage certificate will be issued in the name that you got married.
So then you take that document to all the places that have your name on file, the bank, medicare, the DVD library, I don’t think they have any of those anymore.
The gym, your parents, your kid’s school, whatever it is, any place that has your name on file. And you say to them, I want to use this other name, and here’s my marriage certificate to prove that I’m allowed to use that other name, that I have access to that other name.
Now the name that you can use is your name, your partner’s name, a combination in terms of either hyphenating, those tree names, or just using both names with a space in the middle of them.
You can’t create a new wedge by combining the true names through this process.
You would need to do that through a legal change of name process.
But in terms of assuming and new name through marriage, it can either be putting those names together or taking one of the other’s names. And there’s also no rule about who changes their name.
So a man can change his name. Exactly the same way that a woman changes hers. There’s no rules around.
Pete The Celebrant: So, you really can’t just create your own last name and say, oh, we’re married.
Sarah Aird: That has to at least go through a process of having an official name change.
Pete The Celebrant: What are some common mistakes that you find couples making when it comes to the legalities of marriage?
Sarah Aird: Not bringing the documents that I have asked them to bring.
So I’m pretty clear when I meet with my couples, I need you to bring your passport or your birth certificate, mm and a, and some photo ID. And people often turn up just with their driver’s license.
No, no, no, that’s good, I need that, but I also need your passport, or your birth certificate, all, but I was born in Australia. That doesn’t matter, it’s not relevant. So, not bringing the document. So, make sure you really read what your Celebrant has asked you to bring and bring everything that they’ve asked for because it’s important. Another era, that is that often happens, is when the couple fields in the notice of intended marriage themselves, which they sometimes do, and that is lovely for them. But often they, Because they don’t really understand the nuances of the form, because they don’t do this every day like we do, they’ll leave words out, So, for example, there’s a field that you have to feeling, which is called Conjugal Status. I really want it to be called marital status, because I don’t really like the word conjugal. But that’s what we’ve got at the moment.
And, in that one, you need to write either divorced or widowed or never validly married, and a lot of couples when they feel ready and they leave the word validly out.
The word validly is actually really important, because you might have been married before, but your marriage might have been voided or nullified. Because it didn’t actually meet the requirements of the law when it took place. So, therefore, you haven’t been married, because you have been married. You just haven’t been validly married under the law.
And the third big issue that people do is that when I ask them for their mother’s maiden name, they just give me the surname. I need the full name, so you have to the NOIM requires both parents full names. And it requires their full names, essentially, at birth.
So I will ask for fathers full name and mother’s full maiden name. And they’ll often just give me the surname. So, then, I have to say, I don’t know, full name, first, and middle names as well.
They’re the big ones.
Look, to be honest. I don’t envisage many big legality changes that will have much of an impact on couples. Most of the legality changes that I’m calmer, currently kind of arguing about are about things that really only affect the celebrant.
So, for example, one thing that celebrates talk about quite a lot is that the reason we have three marriage certificates that get signed on the day is because we used to post one of them to ….
So we had to have our own copy, that was a separate document. And then we would post the other one to medium. But in all of the Eastern states now, we have online systems where we can scan the documents and upload them, which means we are now left with two original marriage certificates that was signed on the day.
So a lot of people say, Why do I have to fill into when now, I’ve got both of them? Well, because that’s what the Marriage Act requires, that’s just the rule. And it’s going to require an amendment to the Act and to not have that happen.
People are, you know, starting to, to write to their local members about that. So hopefully that’s something that will change. Again, all that’s going to change for the couple though, is really that they just don’t have to sign a third document on the day. Everything else will just be the same.
I don’t envisage a change to the notice periods at any time. I don’t envisage that will be able to do weddings, or a video conference like: I know is, is happening in some other parts of the world. But it’s not happening in Australia and currently the Attorney General’s department has made it very clear that they have no plans to make that a thing. There has been some consideration of allowing the NOIM should be witnessed over videoconferencing, particularly because of the COVID requirements that are making it quite difficult to witness anyone in Melbourne right now.
But they’ve been talking about that since April. So I’m not holding my breath, That will actually happen, and if it does happen, it will only be for the period of the … restrictions, anyway. So it won’t be a kind of ongoing change to the Act.
So, yeah, not kind of a lot of big things. There’ll be little things about how Celebrants do our work.
There’ll be things around the ongoing professional development requirements. Currently, we need to do five hours per year. It’s looking like that’s going to change in a couple of years. So not so many things that will increase or decrease, hustle, decrease, decrease it because we just so professional and continuing professional development.
OK, I think it would be nice to do Zoom weddings and things like that would be cool.
I mean, there’s a certain like right now in Melbourne, given we’re all locked in our homes, if we could do weddings, I presume people who need to be married for certain reasons could get married. Like, I had a couple, I had three couples that, I was planning to Marry in August after we went into stage for Lockdown.
The first couple, they having a baby, they probably had the baby now. And they wanted to get married before the baby came. Yeah. So now, that’s not possible.
The second couple want it they’re applying for partner visa and one of their tourist visas was running out on the fifth of September. So, now he’s kind of in the country illegally which is not good for anyone. And the third one are an Indian couple who came here as students.
So, there, they met at home, and they’ve been a couple for a long time, and they’ve come here now to study their masters, but it’s not culturally appropriate for them to live together, not married, but given that they’ve come to Australia, they can’t afford to get a separate place, right?
So, right now, they’re living together unmarried and it’s not good under their religion or their cultural rules. It’s not OK, and they are uncomfortable about that. So, if we could have done weddings by video conference, all three of those couples could be married right now, and they wouldn’t have those, those issues.
Yeah, I can say that there are some circumstances where it would actually be really helpful if we could do them. Because there are some people who just want to get married. They don’t want to have a wedding. No, they just want or need to get married for whatever reason and you know, I’m not gonna say that those reasons are valid or not valid if they feel it’s, it’s a valid reason then.
You know, weddings are currently banned in Melbourne and this is the first time in Australia’s history that weddings have been banned anywhere in the country.
It’s very, very odd and strange, and yes, there are very limited, compassionate reasons under which a marriage can take place, but they’re very limited.
Pete The Celebrant: (Jokingly) Yeah, without turning the discussion political. Would you say that the Andrews government is against love? …You don’t have to respond to that, haha.
Sarah Aird: Haha, I am going to mention that the Marriage Act has nothing to do with Love. The Marriage Act doesn’t have ‘Love’ mentioned anywhere at all.
I’m gonna say it’s a business transaction. There you go. Because ultimately, it’s about changing your status. You’re changing your legal status. So it has an impact on your Will It hasn’t if that’s a really good note for everybody, if you’ve already got a Will when you get married, it will be invalidated by your marriage, so you need to get a new one.
So it has an impact on your will. It has an impact on your access to welfare. It impacts your tax. It impacts all sorts of things about your legal status within society. So it’s marriage, not weddings, marriage. It’s much more about legality. And the word love does not appear in the Marriage Act.
Sarah’s other business to train Celebrants
I wish that couples knew how much work goes into creating a marriage ceremony and it’s not just about the legal stuff although that is complex and What I’ve touched on today is not even a quarter of the legalities fit that relate to marriage. So, the legalities of our role are really complex, but also like we spend time writing and thinking and researching and creating and there’s, you know, there’s quite a lot that goes into that. And then we also spend time practicing and rehearsing so that you get the best experience on your day.
And, you know, it, the vast majority of couples who hire me, are not at all. Um, they’re not concerned or surprised by the amount of work that I put in. But it disheartens me a little bit when I see in bridal Facebook groups say, “how dare they charge that much money for turning up on the day and talking for 15 minutes?” That’s not really all that we do.
The turning up one of the day and talking, 15 minutes is probably 10 to 20% of the actual work that goes into creating a ceremony.
So, there’s that, although again, that’s not all couples, and also, I would love for couples to know how passionate we are and how much we love our work and how much we want them to have an incredible day. And the best day for them, whatever that looks like. Because everybody’s best day is different. So, I do a lot of legals only ceremonies for couples who just want to be married.
And that is their best day, all the way through to, you know, a 30 to 45 minutes ceremony with lots of different inclusions. And people involved in this ceremony and music and whatever else, that’s their best day. So we’re just really passionate about making sure that everybody gets their own best day, whatever that looks like. And I hope that couples know that.
I think my best advice is to choose a celebrant who they reckon they could be mates with. Choose a Celebrant that they feel like they would be really comfortable going out for dinner with. Or going out for coffee, or whatever it is, Somebody that they just feel like they could be friends with, because the kind of person that you have, that kind of relationship with.
It’s just going to produce a ceremony that is going to be much more you, and much more suited to who you are and what you love, and what’s important to you in your day. So I think that’s my number one tip, you know Have a look at Celebrants Social media, have a look at their websites.
Ring a few and have a chat to them, You know, We don’t call people anymore, but you can it’s totally OK. Ring a few and have a chat and see What their personality is like what their voice sounds like? Because you have to listen to that during the most important part of your day? So what does their voice sound like? I have a funny and if you want them to be funny. If you do. are they do? You want them to be serious?
If you do, are they, so, you know what, choose someone that you like, choose someone who you have a good connection with, it’s all about the connection.
You know, I can tell you all, the magic legal things that I know it, but ultimately, that’s not as important. As finding somebody that you connect with, who’s going to create and deliver a ceremony that’s going to be the perfect start, to your incredible day.
Pete The Celebrant: Thank you so much for coming on the show!
Sarah Aird: Thank you for having me!
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