Think twice when getting married overseas

Friday, 09 Jun 2017

It is not uncommon these days for couples to travel overseas to get married in an exotic location like Thailand or Hawaii or Bali (or even Las Vegas with an Elvis celebrant!), but care must be taken if a second ceremony takes place back home in Australia, mainly for the benefit of those loved ones who could not travel overseas.

Section 113 of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) provides that couples are not permitted to hold a second ceremony, unless it's a religious ceremony in which case they must expressly inform the celebrant of the second ceremony that they have already been legally married.

This issue recently arose in the context of a family law matter [Anouihl & Temke [2017] FamCA 325 (8 May 2017)] - the divorcing couple was married in a civil ceremony in 2008, and held a religious ceremony in 2009.  Difficulties arose when it was discovered that the celebrant for their 2009 religious ceremony produced a marriage certificate and registered the marriage with Births Deaths and Marriages.  The subsequent registration meant that the marriage was registered twice, in breach of the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth).

This was relevant to the financial side of the family law proceedings, when consideration needs to be given to the length of the marriage, the property brought into and the contributions made throughout the marriage.  One party may seek to argue that the marriage was shorter than it was (e.g. relying on the 2009 registration instead of the 2008 registration), in an attempt to preserve the assets from before the 2009 marriage.

In this instance, the Court understood that the 2009 registration was done in error, and declared that the second marriage was invalid.  

So if you are holding more than one ceremony for your marriage, ensure that you provide your celebrant with:

  • your existing marriage certificate; and
  • a written statement from you both that:
    • you have previously gone through a marriage ceremony with each other;
    • you are the parties referred to in the marriage certificate; and
    • you have no reason to believe that you are not legally married to each other, or if the marriage took place overseas, you have no reason to believe that it would not be recognised as valid in Australia.

Contact Shire Legal if you have any questions about marriage laws.

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