Imagine the horror…you have your dream wedding and begin your married life only to find out 5 months down the track that, in fact, you may not be legally married at all! That is exactly what Kirsty and Gene Wilson were faced with when they found out that their celebrant’s registration had actually lapsed at the time when they were supposedly married.
Kirsty and Gene had spent months planning their perfect wedding, with more than 100 guests, fantastic food and special wedding cars. They even had contingency plans in case it rained.
They did not, however, have a contingency plan for what was about to happen.
With the wedding having gone off without a hitch (or so they thought), Kirsty and Gene were just settling into married life when they discovered to their dismay that their celebrant’s registration had lapsed at the time of their wedding. While the celebrant was beside herself, it wasn’t going to change the fact that Kirsty and Gene may not have been legally married.
In New Zealand , celebrants are required to register each year and notify any changes of their address and phone numbers. The celebrant, who had recently moved house, had not received the registration renewal forms in the mail and, as a result, had failed to reregister for the year. Wondering if things were OK, one month before Kirsty and Gene’s wedding she had phoned the Greymouth District Court to check if she was registered – it confirmed that she was registered at the time. Unfortunately, and unbeknown to the celebrant, her registration lapsed the next month – right before Kirsty and Gene’s big day. It was not until months later when she phoned the court (having become suspicious when she couldn’t find her name listed on Telecom’s website or in the Yellow Pages), that she found out that she was not able to legally marry couples.
With the news that they might not in fact be legally married, Kirsty and Gene contacted the Department of Internal Affairs who confirmed that there was indeed a big problem. The Department gave them a couple of options to confirm their marriage – remarry or go through the Family Court.
Kirsty and Gene however were adamant that they shouldn’t have to do either of those things – they had done everything correctly and it was an administration error that was out of their control. They were also particularly keen to keep their wedding date – 10 April – as this was the same date that Gene’s parents married. They hired a lawyer to help them sort out the whole affair. It became apparent that Kirsty and Gene were not the only ones in this predicament – in fact, there were three other similar cases being investigated by the Department of Internal Affairs.
With some tenacity (and a lot of time and anguish), a resolution has recently been struck thanks to a “get-out” clause in the Marriage Act 1955. The Marriage Act voids any marriage where any persons “knowingly and wilfully” marry in the absence of a celebrant or registrar. The Registrar found that Kirsty and Gene had no knowledge of the lapse of their celebrant’s licence and, accordingly, had not “knowingly and wilfully” married in the absence of a celebrant – this meant that their marriage was valid.
While, in this case, everything turned out fine, it does highlight how a seemingly small oversight can have large ramifications. So some advice for engaged couples: before the wedding, double check with your celebrant that they have a current marriage licence!