Brough Johnson, a wedding and civil union celebrant based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Marriage & Civil Unions

In New Zealand, there are two types of legal formalisation of a couple, a marriage ceremony and a civil union ceremony. It's a personal choice to chose to have a civil union or marriage and either may go by the term wedding.

A civil union is an alternative to marriage, for both gay and straight couples. It allows de facto couples to formally register their relationship under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act. Civil Unions are virtually the same as a marriage and are upheld by the same laws as marriage.

During the ceremony the legal phrases used are slightly different.

During a marriage ceremony, the couple must exchange marriage vows. That is each person must say the words, “I AB, take you CD, to be my legal wife/husband/partner” – or words to similar effect.

During a civil union ceremony, the couple must exchange the civil union statements. That is each person must make a statement to the other that names both people and acknowledges that they are freely joining in a civil union with each other.

There are two types of ceremony:

  • A ceremony held by a Registrar in a Registry Office; and
  • A ceremony held by an approved Marriage or Civil Union Celebrant at a place other than a Registry Office.

Registry Office ceremonies are performed during normal office hours, but a Marriage or Civil Union Celebrant may conduct a marriage or civil union at any time, on any day of the week.

Venue

You may have your ceremony anywhere you like. The marriage/ civil union licence will need you to specify where the ceremony will take place. It will also have an option for you to state an alternative venue. Consider where you can hold the ceremony nearby in case of inclement conditions.

The ceremony must take place at one of the locations specified on the licence. If you decide to change the place of solemnisation after the licence has been issued, you should contact the issuing Registrar to change the form to show the new place of solemnisation. However, if it is not possible to contact the Registrar before the ceremony, the papers must be returned to the Registrar the next working day after the ceremony and the Registrar advised of the change in venue.

If the ceremony is to be held on council land, I advise you to book the area and get a receipt from the council, to prevent ‘double bookings’. Council permission is required to set up a marquee for health and safety reasons.

For those who normally reside outside of New Zealand

If a couple usually lives overseas but want to get married or enter into a civil union in New Zealand, the couple (or either one of them) will need to:

  • Complete a ‘Notice of Intended Marriage, where both parties are ordinarily resident outside of New Zealand’ or ‘Notice of Intended Civil Union, where both parties are ordinarily resident outside of New Zealand’;
  • Send the notice (with the fee) to the Registry Office nearest to the place where their ceremony is to be solemnised, ensuring that it reaches the Registrar at least a week before the intended date of the ceremony;
  • Sign the statutory declaration in front of a Registrar; and
  • Collect the licence and the two copies of the Copy of Particulars. Once in New Zealand the statutory declaration must be signed before the licence is issued or a Registry Office ceremony can occur. Alternatively, the couple can sign the statutory declaration in their home country in front of an authorised diplomatic or consular officer of a Commonwealth country.

Written Consent

If one or both of the couple are 16 or 17 years of age they will need consent.

  •  Generally consent must be obtained from each of the legal guardians (usually the parents) – unless they cannot be located or are, as a result of incapacity, unable to give consent;
  • If no guardians are able to give consent, consent must be obtained from a relative acting in place of a guardian, or from a Family Court Judge;
  • A Family Court Judge can also grant consent if the guardians refuse to give it. Consent forms are available through our website: www.bdm.govt.nz or from Births, Deaths and Marriages offices and agencies. If either of the couple is under 16 years of age they cannot get a Marriage or Civil Union Licence.