A celebrant asks:
Divorce certificates. They just get me confused as to what I need to sight, how I need to sight it and what I definitely need to record. What I’d really like clarified once and for all is:
— Do I need to see the original certificate?
— If it’s from a different country, what do I need to look for?
— If my couple got divorced in a country that doesn’t use English as its main language do I need to see a certified copy of the certificate?
— If one/both of my couple got divorced in Australia and don’t have a copy of the certificate, where do they apply for this?
Divorce certificates can be super confusing, not least because the way they’ve been issued in Australia has changed multiple times. So I’ll take these questions one at a time, and hopefully things will become clearer!
Before I jump in though, the first point is to note that it’s entirely up to the celebrant to decide whether or not they are satisfied that the party is free to marry. AGD won’t help, BDM won’t help, the onus is completely on the celebrant.
Do I need to see the original certificate?
I know this won’t be a popular answer, but it depends. It depends on when it was issued. Page 49 of the Guidelines 2018 includes a super useful table about the types of divorce evidence issued in Australia:
|When divorce granted||Required evidence of divorce|
|5 January 1975 to 1 July 2002||‘decree absolute’
A ‘decree nisi’ is not sufficient
|1 July 2002 to 3 August 2005||‘certificate of divorce’
The certificate will include the wording of decree nisi/absolute, but the document is called a certificate of divorce
|3 August 2005 to 13 February 2010||‘certificate of divorce’
Wording on the certificate will refer to a ‘divorce order’
|13 February 2010 to 17 December 2011||‘divorce order’
Issued electronically with no colour seals or signatures
|Since 17 December 2011||current: ‘divorce order’
Issued electronically with colour seal and signature. A celebrant may accept a divorce order where seal and signature are not in colour.
So if the divorce was granted before 13 February 2010, you need to see an original hard copy document. (The Marriage Act doesn’t specify original, and I’m always happy to see an appropriately certified photocopy, but that’s a decision for each celebrant to make for themselves.)
If the divorce was granted after 13 February 2010, the documentation was issued electronically, therefore there is no original hard copy document to sight. You can see the electronic version or you can sight a printed out, hard copy version.
If it’s from a different country, what do I need to look for?
This is a super tricky question to answer, because not only does every country do things differently, but also states within some countries may do things differently (I’m looking at you, USA). However, I’ll try to give you some ideas of things I look for.
- some information about the jurisdiction where the decision was made (e.g. name and address of the court and name of the person who made the decision)
- some wording about the dissolution or termination of a marriage
- some wording suggesting that a divorce was granted on X date
- some kind of official looking seal or stamp
- if it appears to be a photocopy, certification that it’s a true and accurate copy of the original.
No one at AGD or BDM will be able to tell a celebrant whether or not an overseas issued divorce certificate is legit. If a celebrant has concerns about the legitimacy of a document they are given, they are well within their rights to ask the party to contact the relevant embassy or high commission to seek written evidence that the document/s provided are appropriate evidence of divorce in that country. This is not the celebrant’s job! It is up to the party to get this advice and provide it to the celebrant.
If my couple got divorced in a country that doesn’t use English as its main language do I need to see a certified copy of the certificate?
I think the question here is actually about a translated copy rather than a certified copy of the certificate, and the answer is yes. As with any other document provided by a couple, if we can’t read it how can we know it’s legit? If a party provides a celebrant with any document, including a divorce certificate, written in another language, the celebrant needs to ask the party to provide them with a translated copy. Best practice is to seek a NAATI translation, but a translation by an official overseas body is also perfectly acceptable.
If one/both of my couple got divorced in Australia and don’t have a copy of the certificate, where do they apply for this?
This one’s easy because I already wrote about it! Check out my post about how a party proves they’re divorced.
Hopefully that has cleared up a few concerns! Let me know in the comments or in a separate question if you have any further questions!