Sometimes (often?) Josh and I disagree on the answer to a question. This was one such time…

Bree asked:

I have a grandparent as a witness this coming Saturday who has a very shaky hand and is apparently really nervous about the signing duties. The poor darling! They are adamant they want him as a witness. Any tips on how to beat / manage this? I think he is worried about people watching him… would it be ok to get him to just sign one document while everyone is watching but then the other two after? Appreciate your advice!

Here’s how the email exchange went when we received this question…

Sarah’s response:

Hm, tricky one if they’re adamant they want him as a witness. I think that’s pretty unfair on him, to be honest – it will be making him dread coming to the wedding at all. I would be really pushing them to find someone else.

I guess there’s nothing to say he can’t sign the BDM document and your register after the ceremony is finished and everyone has left the area, but I’m actually not sure if people watching him would be the biggest issue; he’s quite possibly concerned about his wonky handwriting making their certificate look bad. 

I’m afraid I don’t have any massive wisdom on this one, apart from trying really hard to talk them into finding another witness! Talk to them about the burden they’re putting on him; don’t they just want him to enjoy the day and not be worried about having to sign???

Josh’s response:

As is my role and want, I’m going to throw a different angle in.

Grandpa doesn’t have to ink a traditional signature, common law has long held that a signature is not necessarily the writing in of a name, but may be any mark which identifies it as the act of the party.

Further to that, here’s an excerpt from the AGD website on witnesses to statutory declarations:

“A Commonwealth statutory declaration requires the signature of the person making the declaration (known as ‘the declarant’) in the presence of an authorised witness. In circumstances where the declarant is unable to sign the declaration, for example where a person … is unable to read, or has a vision impairment or is blind, or is unable to physically sign the declaration the requirement that the declarant provide their signature will be satisfied if the declarant makes a mark where a signature is required.


“Where the declarant has vision impairment, is blind, or is unable to read, the authorised witness for the document must first … read the declaration aloud to the person, or cause the document to be read aloud to the person in the authorised witness’ presence, and be satisfied that the declarant understood what was read aloud, and certify on the declaration that the declaration was read aloud to the person, and
that the authorised witness is satisfied that the person understood what was read aloud.


“The authorised witness then needs to certify that the mark is that of the declarant by writing next to the mark …. ‘I, being the person before whom this statutory declaration is made, certify that this mark was placed by [declarant’s full name] on this statutory declaration in my presence.’”

Sarah’s response:

But the marriage rules are that witnesses and parties sign with their “usual signature”. If his usual signature is an X, that’s fine. But if his usual signature is a “normal” signature, that’s what he needs to sign with. This guy isn’t actually unable to sign, he just has shaky hands, so that excerpt from the stat dec stuff isn’t really relevant 🙂 


(Yes Bree, Josh and I enjoy arguing with each other!)

Josh’s response:

I feel like we’re fighting in front of the kids 🙂

I have no legal wisdom on this – but Sarah’s mother probably would 😉 – but I’m of the belief that if grandpa wiped the sweat off his brow onto the marriage certificate in acknowledgement of his witnessing the marriage ceremony that a court would uphold that.

Also, where’s the database of “usual signatures” 

*scampers back into my cave*

Sarah’s response:

You’re probably right. I concede 🙂

A lot of the stuff we get questions about is like this; there’s no hard and fast rules, just one person’s interpretation of the legislation versus another person’s interpretation. I’m always happy to give you my interpretation (and Josh will sometimes jump in with his own), but it is important to realise that there’s not necessarily one right answer in some circumstances. Sometimes we have to do whatever is most practical and ends up with the best outcome for our clients 🙂