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What is a "Legals Only" Wedding Ceremony

Updated: Mar 19

And how is that different to when a friend does your ceremony?

This post has come about for a few reasons.

Firstly out of experience. I was once asked to fill in on a co-hosted ceremony with only a couple of days’ notice. Another local celebrant came down with Covid who was going to be there to do “just the legals” while a relative of the bride delivered the ceremony.

It was almost a trainwreck. I made contact with a lovely young man so that I could pick up where their previous celebrant had left off, only to find that he hadn’t heard from them at all between lodging their Notice of Intended Marriage and when they texted them to say they were sick and I would be taking over.

No-one in the wedding party had any idea what the celebrant was going to do and say. The bride’s brother was doing this as a wedding gift as he was used to public speaking in his job but was now really worried about the actual logistics of the ceremony.

We spent a pretty intense 24 hours swapping emails and working on his script together. What he’d written was lovely, but there are things a celebrant must say by law, in the right order, to ensure the marriage is legal. This family thought I just needed to be there to witness their signatures.

Their original celebrant had quoted a Legals Only price and that was all they were planning to deliver. No support in the planning. Just rock up on the day.

This highlights the problem that is the concept of a “Legals Only” ceremony. It will vary a little between celebrants, but 99.9% of us have a different idea of this than 99.9% of you.

Just recently I was asked for my Legals Only price for a wedding at a surf club on the Sunshine Coast on a Saturday afternoon. To me this sounded more like a full-on wedding with guests and a reception, so I asked a few more questions and found out they were really asking about a co-hosted, or tandem, ceremony with a family friend. That isn’t what we celebrants think of as a Legals Only Ceremony.

I advertise a Legals Only price on my website but it also stipulates that it’s minimum words, you and two witness around a kitchen table within 20km of my home. A Legals Only wedding takes about 5 minutes and doesn’t involve setting aside a whole Saturday, putting on a nice frock, driving an hour to a venue with 75 guests and setting up my sound equipment. Does that sound mean? I hope not. I hope you can see the difference.

Some celebrants won’t touch a tandem/co-host. Some charge their full fee for this type of arrangement because they understand how many hours they will need to put in to make sure your dream is realized to perfection. That’s how we roll. We want you to have your best day but also we don’t want to look bad if the wheels fall off. Even more importantly, if the legals aren’t done right (in the right order) you could find yourselves not married after all; and for some breaches of the Marriage Act a celebrant could face gaol time. Yes really.

If you think having someone else do the ceremony and just employing a celebrant for the legal bit will save you money, you might be wrong. It all comes down the to the difference between our understanding of what’s required and what you think we need to do.

Personally, I have no problem with tandem ceremonies. Long before I was Commonwealth Registered Celebrant I conducted funerals for family members. You don’t need a qualification for that and writing and speaking have always been my jam. If you have someone special in your life who would be thrilled and honoured to do this for you then I support the idea 100%.

Just don’t press someone into service because you think it will save you a few bucks, ok?

The final reason I created this post was to support your decision if your planning a co-hosted. No one I meet for the first time when they’re planning a wedding has a fully fleshed out idea of what goes into a wedding ceremony and neither will the person doing yours.

I want the day to be a huge success. I want everyone to laugh, cry, laugh, cry and cheer. I want your ceremony to flow nicely, have all the right bits in the right order. Include everything that makes you happy and nothing that makes you cringe.

When Joey married Monica and Chandler in Friends, he got ordained as some sort of minister online and then married them. It was lovely, but it left out a bit of detail.

In the US Monica and Chandler would have attended the Registry Office for the official paperwork to get their “Marriage License”. That is what made them married, not Joey dressed as a priest.

In the UK you can’t get married at home, only in a pre-approved public venue. They have private celebrants but the marriage is also attended by a representative from the Registry Office who overseas the ceremony and does the legal work.

Australia is the only country in the world where the celebrant looks after everything from go to woah and afterwards tells the government you’re married.

If you want some more dirt on what a celebrant actually does, here's a link to that post.

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