As everyone knows, we’re currently able to witness signatures on NOIMs remotely, via a platform such as Zoom or FaceTime. This has been an absolute saviour for a lot of celebrants, not only allowing them to continue working while being infected with COVID, but also simply saving them and their couples the time of travelling to meet each other for a simple signature.
This modification to the Marriage Act 1961 is due to end on 31 December 2022, at which time we’ll go back to the couples having to sign the NOIM “in the presence of” an authorised witness. That, quite frankly, would suck.
So what do we do about it? We’re suggesting a two-pronged approach:
- The Marriage Law and Celebrants Section of the Attorney-General’s Department has indicated they are supportive of making this change permanent, but they need evidence from us about how it’s been so useful and why it should stay. Please email them directly ([email protected]) with your reasons for keeping this change in place.
- Most changes to legislation require a member of parliament to put forward an amendment. I’ll be emailing the following to my local Federal MP, and I would encourage you to do the same – it can’t hurt to lobby as many people as possible for this change! Feel free to copy my text, I don’t mind! Just pop it on your letterhead or in an email from your celebrant email address. You can find the contact details for your local Federal MP here: https://www.aph.gov.au/Senators_and_Members/Guidelines_for_Contacting_Senators_and_Members
I am writing to ask that you consider putting forward an amendment to the Marriage Act 1961 to make permanent a temporary modification allowing Notices of Intended Marriage to be witnessed remotely.
- Since 22 December 2021 Notices of Intended Marriage have been able to be witnessed remotely under a temporary modification via COVID response legislation
- This legislation is due to be repealed on 31 December 2022
- Making this modification permanent would have significant benefits for both marrying couples and celebrants across Australia.
Under section 42 of the Marriage Act 1961 (“the Act”), couples wishing to marry in Australia must lodge a Notice of Intended Marriage (NOIM) with their chosen celebrant no less than one month and no more than 18 months before the planned marriage. Sections 42(2)(c) and 42(2)(d) of the Act require the NOIM to be signed by the parties to the marriage “in the presence of” one of a list of authorised witnesses. This requires couples wishing to marry to visit an authorised witness in person to sign this document, a requirement that is out of step with how legal documents are signed in many other industries.
At the beginning of the COVID outbreak it became impossible for prospective marrying parties in all States and Territories in Australia to visit an authorised witness to have their NOIM witnessed due to lockdown requirements. This caused considerable issues particularly for couples looking to marry as soon as possible.
We lobbied the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department (responsible for policy issues relating to the Marriage Act) to arrange for NOIMs to be able to be witnessed via electronic means (such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc) to alleviate these issues. After almost two years, this was finally implemented via a temporary modification to the Marriage Act 1961 under the Coronavirus Economic Response Package (Modifications – Statutory Declarations and Notices of Intention to Marry) Determination 2021.
Under this determination, since 22 December 2021 the requirement to sign the NOIM “in the presence of” an authorised witness has been replaced with the ability for parties to sign the NOIM “under the observation (whether or not by means of a facility that enables audio and visual communication between persons in different places) of” an authorised witness.
In practice this means that parties and celebrants can have a Zoom call where the parties sign the NOIM while the celebrant watches them do so; the parties can then scan or photograph the NOIM and email or text it to the celebrant, and the celebrant can then sign the document on page 4 in the witness box.
This temporary modification is due to end on 31 December 2022 when item 1 of Schedule 5 to the Coronavirus Economic Response Package Omnibus (Measures No. 2) Act 2020 is due to be repealed.
The ability for celebrants to witness signatures on NOIMs via software such as Zoom has now been in place for more than seven months, and it has been of huge benefit to both celebrants and marrying couples, not only in managing this process when one or the other has COVID, but also generally allowing couples and celebrants to save time and money travelling to meet each other. This has been particularly beneficial for celebrants in regional and rural areas, and those who work with interstate couples, but even celebrants in metropolitan areas report having more time to spend with their families because they’re not spending so much time travelling to meet with couples to sign this document.
Every other part of a marriage celebrant’s role preceding the marriage ceremony can be undertaken online: meetings to assess consent, get to know a couple and work with them to create their marriage ceremony; business documentation such as contracts and invoices; drafting and sending ceremony scripts; and even ceremony rehearsals.
There are multiple other ways the Marriage Act 1961 could be modernised, but this is the most pressing issue at this stage. I would be glad to discuss other potential modifications at your convenience.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.
Commonwealth-Registered Marriage Celebrant
DO NOT PUT YOUR A NUMBER HERE!
Let us know in the comments when you’ve done either or both of the above actions, and let’s all hope we can get this across the line!