Alison asks:

I’m currently studying to become a marriage celebrant, but there is one thing that worries me about setting up my practice once authorised: the home office.

I currently live with flatmates in the city, so space is limited. I’m only planning on doing the celebrancy thing as a side gig (at the moment) as an antidote to my corporate day job, so renting full-time office space isn’t practical.

In your interpretation of the Marriage Act and Code of Practice, would it be appropriate to maintain an “office” in my lockable bedroom, securing documents in a locked filing cabinet, while renting a separate interview space when needed or offering to meet couples in their homes? Can you recommend any other solutions?

This is definitely something you shouldn’t be worried about at all, there’s no need to overthink it!

Schedule 2 of the Marriage Regulations 2017 sets out the Code of Practice for Marriage Celebrants. The wording in the old code of practice, the one from the Marriage Regulations 1963, was slightly different and more onerous upon celebrants. Section 5(b) of the current code of practice requires that:

A marriage celebrant must respect the importance of the marriage ceremony to the parties and the other persons organising the ceremony. This includes (without limitation) the following:

(b) respecting the privacy and confidentiality of the parties, including by:

(i) arranging for appropriate facilities to interview parties; and …

(iii) maintaining appropriate facilities for the storage of records …

We’re no longer required to provide meeting facilities or maintain a home office.

Alison’s plan of maintaining a locked filing cabinet in her lockable bedroom absolutely meets the requirements of s5(b)(iii). Her plan to rent separate interview space or offer to meet couples in their homes would well and truly meet the requirements of s5(b)(i), but it’s not required.

For the first year of running my business I went to couples’ homes. It was something that I could offer that set me apart from busier celebrants. After a year (and a few instances of driving an hour to someone’s home to discover they’d forgotten and weren’t there) I decided I wasn’t going to do that anymore. I didn’t want to meet people in my home; I’m a single woman living alone and I didn’t think that was a particularly safe or secure option. Plus I didn’t want to have to provide coffee, tea, or whatever else people might want to drink or eat. I started holding meetings at an Italian restaurant near my home. That restaurant (Sugo) has become my second office, and they are absolutely delighted to have me there. They’re almost never full, so I’m not taking up a table that could be used by guests who will be spending more than I am, the the couple can order whatever they want during the meeting, and many of my couples stay for dinner after our meeting, and even come back for dinner at a later date. I even hold Legals Only Ceremonies at Sugo now, and they’re more than happy for me to do so.

I have had celebrants question whether it’s appropriate to discuss private information in a public setting such as a restaurant, but when I really think about what I talk about with my couples during a meeting, none of it is actually particularly private. Their information for the NOIM such as name, date and place of birth, parents’ names, etc, I usually copy straight off their birth certificate or other documents. Yes, I may ask them for other identifying information, such as their address, but we’re not talking so loudly that people at other tables could hear their responses. I’m yet to have a couple suggest that they don’t want to discuss something at Sugo because it’s not private enough.

I believe I am meeting the requirement to arrange for appropriate facilities to interview parties in, and Alison definitely shouldn’t feel she needs to hire meeting space!

(However when this question came up during my training I did say I would hire a room at my local library or Officeworks, just to be on the safe side with my extremely privacy-conscious trainer.)

On a related note, this is only for weddings. For funerals I always travel to wherever is convenient for the family, which is usually their home, occasionally the funeral home. Funerals are a completely different service, and families need to feel comfortable in their surroundings when discussing funeral plans.