We all know COVID-19 is impacting heavily on the wedding industry in Australia. With the announcement on Tuesday 24 March that weddings can only go ahead with the celebrant, the couple, and two witnesses present, celebrants are currently the only wedding industry professionals that can keep some semblance of income flowing (unless couples are prepared to have a photographer and/or a videographer as their witness). We can currently continue to solemnise legal marriages for those couples who wish to be married in the absence of a “wedding”.
(Whether or not it is socially responsible to even continue with these minimum requirements in place is for someone else to answer; I did five weddings like this on Sun-Tue this week, all of which involved copious amounts of hand sanitiser, wiping everyone’s hands and the pen with antibacterial wipes between each person signing, and my presence only being required for approx 8 minutes. I feel comfortable continuing to solemnise marriages in this way for the time being.)
There’s been quite a lot of chatter about whether or not the one-month’s notice period can be shortened due to the potential for further lockdowns, which could make it impossible for couples to marry in the near future. We are seeing even bare minimum legal marriage ceremonies being banned in other countries, and it is possible that we could get to that stage in Australia in the not-too-distant future.
The question has been, can a couple complete their NOIM now (I’m writing this on 26 March) and obtain a shortening of time because they may not be able to get married on or after 26 April if further lockdowns are then in place.
The answer, in Victoria at least, is no. I had a couple attend BDM in Melbourne on Wednesday 25 March and speak to a helpful attendant who listened to their story (they want to get married before her visa runs out in early May, and are worried they may not be able to if they have to wait until late April) and told them that several applications for shortenings have been made this week and all of them had been rejected. He was good enough to tell them not to apply, so they saved their money and we’re planning for a legal marriage ceremony on 24 April (they lodged their NOIM with me on 24 March).
While I understand the hope of getting ahead of any potential lockdown, current marriage legislation has no provision for shortenings of time for such reasons. The only circumstances under which a shortening can currently be granted by a prescribed authority are employed-related or other travel commitments, wedding or celebration arrangements, medical reason, legal proceedings, or error in giving notice. The potential for a future lockdown making marriages impossible does not fit under any of those circumstances so prescribed authorities have no option but to deny these applications.
I suspect there’s a lot of legislation that will be updated/changed to reflect all sorts of very specific difficulties that are being thrown up by this completely unprecedented event, but all of that will take time and it won’t help our couples at this moment. All we can do is recommend that they lodge their NOIM as soon as possible, and plan for marriage ceremonies in a month – if we’re not all on house arrest by then.