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WITNESS FEES: Can a Celebrant charge for the service of procuring witnesses to a marriage.

Basically, there is no provision in either the Marriage Act 1961 or Marriage Regulations 2017 that prohibits charging a fee but it is important that marriage celebrants avoid both actual and potential conflicts of interest and benefits to business, so that they can properly fulfill their duties as a marriage celebrant.

The object of having the two witnesses is:

  • their evidence will be available to establish the identity of the parties or
  • they can testify as to the circumstances in which the ceremony was performed.

It is therefore desirable that the witnesses know the parties to the marriage and so, arranging for the attendance of witnesses at the marriage ceremony is the responsibility of the parties to the marriage.

This of course means that the authorised celebrant is not responsible for providing witnesses and should be cautious if such a request is received from the parties.

However the question is “Can a Celebrant charge for the service of procuring witnesses to a marriage?” and so to explain my comments above, here is firstly what the Guidelines indicate: 5.8 WITNESSES

Under section 44 of the Marriage Act, a marriage may not be solemnised unless at least two persons are present at the ceremony who are, or appear to the person solemnising the marriage to be, over the age of 18 years.

These are the persons who will sign the marriage certificates in their capacity as the witnesses to the marriage.

When completing the marriage certificates the witnesses to the marriage should record their names in full, including any middle names.

The object of requiring the attendance of witnesses is that:

  • their evidence will be available to establish the identity of the parties or
  • to testify as to the circumstances in which the ceremony was performed.

It is therefore desirable that the witnesses know the parties to the marriage.

Arranging for the attendance of witnesses at the marriage ceremony is the responsibility of the parties to the marriage.

The authorised celebrant is not responsible for providing witnesses and should be cautious if such a request is received from the parties.

Now, secondly, onto the further explanation.

The Guidelines in essence, indicate that if the couple has asked the celebrant to help find ‘impromptu’ witnesses to their marriage, there is no provision in either the Marriage Act 1961 or Marriage Regulations 2017 that prohibits this however the following the points should be considered:

  • In cases, such as those travelling from overseas who do not have witnesses available, it remains the responsibility of the couple to arrange witnesses as it is desirable that the couple know the witnesses as the evidence of witnesses may be critical in establishing the identity of the parties or testifying as to the circumstances in which the ceremony was performed.
  • The persons signing the marriage certificates must be, or appear to be, over the age of 18 (section 44 of the Marriage Act).
  • The Celebrant charging a fee to the wedding party to provide witnesses could be seen as a potential conflict of interest and a Commonwealth-registered marriage celebrant must avoid a conflict of interest between their work as a celebrant and their other business interests and other interests (paragraph 39C(2)(e) of the Act).
  • It is important that marriage celebrants avoid both actual and potential conflicts of interest and benefits to business, so that they can properly fulfill their duties as a marriage celebrant.
  • A marriage celebrant who provides additional non-celebrancy services to a couple they are marrying may find it difficult to refuse to perform the ceremony on the day (such as when a party cannot give real consent, or another legal requirement cannot be met) and so it is essential that the Celebrant provide couples with a choice about whether or not to purchase additional services which will include agreement up front with couples as to what arrangements will be followed if a legal impediment meant the marriage could not be solemnised on the planned wedding day.

Finally, in summary, the answer is yes, a  Celebrant can charge for the service of procuring witnesses to a marriage but has to be certain that the object & purpose of the witnesses is satisfied and that there is no conflict of interest.

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