Getting Married - What are your legal obligations?

7th June 2018

Megan Hutchison

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Shoes of a bride and groom illuminated under soft light

It’s all very exciting planning your wedding, but without following the legalities of marrying in New Zealand, you’ll end up with a brilliant party and no husband!  NZ requirements are fairly simple, the key element being arranging a marriage licence between 3 days and 3 months in advance; and registering the marriage after the ceremony.

Who can get married in New Zealand?

Anyone can marry in New Zealand, as long as they’re not:

  • already married or in a civil union (unless you’re changing your relationship with the same person)
  • under 16 (and you need your parents’ consent if you’re 16 or 17)
  • closely related by birth, marriage or adoption.

Of course, it’s legal for lesbian and gay couples to marry in New Zealand, making it an attractive destination wedding for international couples, especially from Australia.

There are two ways to get married in New Zealand, of which you must decide on prior to applying for your marriage certificate.

1. Get married at a registry office

A registry office wedding:

  • takes place in normal office hours
    Red sign says
  • isn’t open to the public – you’ll need to bring 2 witnesses
  • uses standard wedding vows – you can’t write your own.

2. Get married by an approved marriage celebrant

An approved, registered celebrant can marry you:

  • at the time and location of your choice, anywhere in New Zealand (this is not the case in many other countries, including the UK)
  • using your own vows – although you must say “I [name] take you [name] to be my legal [wife or husband].”

Once you have arranged for a marriage celebrant or choose a registry office to get married in, and organised where you will get married, you can apply for your marriage licence. Note, you can only get married at the venue you write on the marriage licence application form, so you may wish to include a back-up wedding and mrs wooden signpost

Find a Celebrant

If you’ve been married and divorced previously, you’ll also need a copy of the marriage dissolution order.

Get a marriage licence if you live in NZ

You can not get married without a marriage licence.

Complete a notice of intended marriage application form 

  • Only one of you needs to apply – take the notice to your local Registrar of Marriages in person so they can witness you signing the declaration
  • If you’ve been married before, bring a copy of your dissolution of marriage order.
  • Find your local Registrar of Marriages by calling 0800 22 52 52 (or +64 4 463 9362 from overseas).

Pay when you hand in your form. It costs:

  • $240 if you’re getting married at a registry office (including the ceremony), or
  • $150 if you’re getting married by a celebrant (the celebrant costs extra – you’ll pay them directly).
  • $26.50 for a marriage certificate

Your licence will take at least 3 working days to be issued.  It’s valid for 3 months. Therefore, you must apply between 3 months and 3 days of your wedding.

Getting a marriage licence if you both live outside NZ

If you’re coming to NZ to get married, you need to organise a marriage licence before you get here.

1.    Complete a notice of intended marriage where parties are ordinarily resident outside New Zealand form 
2.    Don’t sign the declaration.
3.    Send it, with your payment, to the registry office closest to where you plan to get married. It costs:

  • o    NZ$240 if you’re getting married at a registry office (including the ceremony), or
  • o    NZ$150 if you’re getting married by a celebrant (the celebrant costs extra – you’ll pay them directly).

4.    When you arrive in NZ, visit the office to sign the declaration and pick up your marriage licence.

You can also take your completed form to a commonwealth representative in your country (eg a high commissioner or ambassador) and sign the declaration in front of them before you post it.

Marriage and Civil Union Facts

- In 1965 the marriage rate was 38.6 in every 1,000 people eligible to marry. In 2017 the rate was 10.9, with a total of 20,685 marriages and civil unions.
- In 2013, 354 same-sex couples married in New Zealand, including 147 overseas couples. This rose to a total of 960 same-sex couples in 2017.
- In recent years, fewer couples in New Zealand are getting divorced. In 2003 the divorce rate (number of divorces per 1,000 existing marriages) was 12.8, falling to 8.4 in 2017.
- The decline in the marriage rate may be because couples prefer to live together but not marry. In the 1996 Census, there were just over 236,000 people in de facto partnerships. This rose to more than 409,000 in the 2013 Census.
- Since 1980 the median age for a man getting married increased from about 25 to about 32. For a woman, the median age rose from about 23 to about 31.
- The most popular day of the week to get married continues to be Saturday. The average number of marriages on a Saturday in 2000–2015 was 249.
- When Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday, there were an average of 651 marriages. On a Valentine’s Day that fell on any day 
of the week there were an average of 217 marriages.


New Zealand representatives overseas 

Receiving your marriage licence and getting married in New Zealand

Your marriage licence will be issued 3 days later, and you will be sent the licence and two copies of the Copy of Particulars, all of which are to be given to your celebrant. If for any reason you change your venue before the wedding, you must tell the registry office at which you got the marriage licence.

Register your marriage

After the ceremony, your celebrant will get you to sign two copies of a form – one for you to keep and one which they will send to Births, Deaths and Marriages to register your marriage.

A civil union

The process for getting a civil union is the same as for getting married, but the forms are different. You’ll still need to:

  • go to a registry office or find a celebrant
  • get a licence
  • have your civil union registered by your celebrant.

Civil union forms and information

Change your civil union to a marriage or your marriage to a civil union

If you’re already in a civil union (that’s recognised in New Zealand) and would like to change it to a marriage, or vice versa, you need to follow all the steps above – but you’ll complete a different form when you apply for your licence. You’ll also need to provide evidence of your current relationship. The usual marriage and civil union fees and processes will apply.

·Change a civil union to a marriage form (PDF 266kb) 
·Change a marriage to a civil union form (PDF 228kb) 

Changing your name

In New Zealand, once you are legally married, you can also legally use the name of your spouse. You don’t have to do anything particular to register your new married name, but you are likely to need a copy of your Marriage Certificate to change your name at banks and government agencies. Be careful when booking your honeymoon and any future international travel, because though your legal name will be both your maiden, and married name, you can only travel on the name recorded in your passport.

To change your name to your married name on your drivers licence or passport, you will have to apply for a new licence or new passport with the marriage certificate.

Head to the wedding planning page for an index of our content. If you haven’t already seen our wedding organiser and diary, take a little look at the little white book and once you’re married, get your hands on I still do wedding anniversary journal.


Planning a wedding? 

Then you need to check out the awesome My Wedding Guide website for everything you need to put together the perfect wedding. From cakes to cars, venues to videographers...My Wedding Guide has it all in one place for your convenience, helping to make your special day less stressful and more magical.  

There are also a whole lot of checklists on the site to help make your wedding planning that little bit easier, and you all know how much we love a good checklist!

Insider tip: Give the My Wedding Guide Facebook Page a like and keep an eye out for an upcoming competition in which one lucky couple can win a 1 year LifeLot subscription each!

LifeLot Members - Scan and upload a copy of your Marriage Certificate and any other important forms or documentation you are required to keep, to the About Me section of your LifeLot account. Must be logged in to view. 

Related: Helpful Links | Families | Personal Planning


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