Ever thought how romantic it would be to plan your wedding as a surprise for your beloved?

I’m sorry to have to tell you that this romantic gesture is a big No No.  In Australia you must lodge a Notice of Intended Marriage a minimum of one month before you can be legally married.  This must be signed by both of you when lodging it with your celebrant.  In some circumstances the Notice may be lodged with one signature but only if the other person is overseas or interstate, not simply because they are not aware of what’s happening.

How about if you have already agreed to marry and maybe even lodged your Notice of Intended Marriage with both signatures but haven’t settled on the date yet?  Even if you had, sometimes circumstances necessitate a change of plan.  Perhaps a baby comes along or a close family member is diagnosed with a serious illness and you want to wait until that person is well enough to be part of your celebrations.

One of you might decide that you just don’t want to wait any longer and would love to surprise your partner with a ceremony that you spring on them.  Even with the required notice being given and signed by both of you, it is still not acceptable because there must never be a hint that anyone is being coerced into marriage.

No matter how much your partner loves you, they might not appreciate being expected to take that step if it’s sprung on them out of the blue but feel too embarrassed to say so.  In legal terms this can be construed as the surprised person being put under undue pressure to agree to the arrangement, i.e. the surprise marriage.  This would put the validity of the marriage into question and that’s the last thing you would want.

The Marriage Act is quite clear on surprise weddings: “Authorised celebrants must not participate in such ceremonies. This is because there is no guarantee that the marriage will be valid.”

If an authorised celebrant is approached with a request for a surprise wedding, the authorised celebrant must not only advise the person making the request of the requirement to give at least one month’s notice.  They must also advise the Attorney-General’s Department of the request, giving full details and finally they must let the Registry Office in the relevant State know in case marriage documents are submitted by another celebrant who has agreed to perform the surprise ceremony.

Of course you can still surprise your family and friends with an unexpected wedding but you cannot be married in Australia if either the bride or groom is surprised.


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