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A marriage certificate (sometimes: marriage lines) is an official statement that two people are married. In most jurisdictions, a marriage certificate is issued by a government official only after the civil registration of the marriage.
In some jurisdictions, especially in the United States, a marriage certificate is the official record that two people have undertaken a marriage ceremony. This includes jurisdictions where marriage licenses do not exist. In other jurisdictions, a marriage license serves a dual purpose of granting permission for a marriage to take place and then endorsing the same document to record the fact that the marriage has been performed.
A marriage certificate may be required for a number of reasons. It may be required as evidence of change of a party's name, on issues of legitimacy of a child, during divorce proceedings, or as part of a genealogical history, besides other purposes.
In parts of the United States, the certificate of marriage is recorded on the same document as the marriage license or application for marriage. While each state creates their own form for use with the recording of marriages, most states have a specific portion of the record to be completed by the official performing the ceremony. In some states, this portion also includes places for the parties to indicate a change in name, if any. (The marriage certificate can be used as documentation to justify a legal name change but not as proof that a name change has occurred.) If there is not a place for a name change, the name is changed as requested on government documents with proof of marriage.
England and Wales
On 1 July 1837 civil registration was introduced in England and Wales, providing a central record of all births, deaths and marriages. A Registrar General was appointed with overall responsibility and the country was divided into registration districts, each controlled by a superintendent registrar. Under this system, all marriage ceremonies have been certified by the issuing of a marriage certificate whose details are also stored centrally. From that date, marriage ceremonies could be performed, and certificates issued either by a clergyman of the Church of England, in a parish church, or by a civil registrar in a civil register office. Marriages performed according to the ceremonies of Quakers and Jews also continued to be recognised as legal marriages, and certificates were issued.
From 1898 Roman (Hargeysa)
The marriage certificate itself is given to the couple who have married. Copies are made in two registers: one is retained by the church or register office; the other, when the entire register is full, is sent to the superintendent registrar of the registration district. Every quarter, the minister or civil registrar prepares a further copy of all the marriage entries and sends them to the Registrar General.
The certificate lists the date of the marriage, and the full names of both the bride and groom. Their ages are included (it is also permissible to write "full", meaning of age, and until 1850 some 75% of certificates said that; if the certificate reads "minor" or "under age", it means that, until 1929 when the law changed to 16, the bride was between 12 and 20 and the groom 14 and 20 years of age).
The certificate also records the previous marital status of the bride and groom. Those not previously married were "bachelor" or "spinster." From 1858 to 1952 a previously divorced groom was listed as "the divorced husband of…" with his ex-wife’s maiden name listed, and vice versa for a divorced bride. The currently used wording is "previous marriage dissolved" with no further details given. On 5 September 2005, the Registrar General in England and Wales officially abolished the traditional terms of "bachelor" and "spinster" and substituted the more politically correct "single" to coincide with the reform that introduced civil partnerships, explaining, "The word single will be used to mean a couple who has never been through a marriage or civil partnership."
Unlike birth and death registrations, the local (church) copies of marriage registers for churches are treated as ecclesiastical records and thus are deposited in diocesan record offices or county record offices (often but not always the same office) when full or when the church is closed. Such records are thus available for inspection in their original form (or a direct filmed copy) without the requirement to pay a search fee or the purchase of certified copies. The availability can be somewhat random, some churches have not yet filled their original 1837 registers while others might have deposited a register in recent weeks.
Though marriage in Australia is regulated under federal law, the registration of marriages takes place under the respective state or territory laws, generally through an agency named "Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages" or similar, and marriage certificates are issued by these agencies. Under Federal law, a certificate is issued at the time of marriage by a celebrant, for forwarding to the state or territory registry. A similar (Sometimes cut-down) document is often given to the couple on the day of the marriage, it is generally handwritten, but is not generally acceptable as an official document. However, the state or territory marriage certificate is considered to be an acceptable and secure secondary identity document especially for the purposes of change of name, and needs to be obtained separately for a fee generally some time after the marriage. This document can be verified electronically by the Attorney-general of Australia's Document Verification Service. States and territories sometimes market commemorative marriage certificates, which generally have no official document status.
State and territory issued certificates are on A4 paper and provide: Date and place of marriage, full names, occupations, addresses, marital status (never validly married, divorced, widow/er), birth date & place, age, father's name, mother's maiden name of each the couple, the celebrant, witness names (generally two), the registrar official of the state or territory authority, and the date of registration. The registrar's signature and seal is printed/embossed on the certificate along with a number, and date of issue of certificate.
Most laws recognise de-facto relationships and the marriage certificate is not generally of use in Australia, other than to prove change-of-name, and proof of marital status in a divorce hearing. Some visa categories require a certificate, however there are similar categories that do not.
Some states and territories allow for relationships or civil unions (generally same sex or sex independent) to be registered, however these are not regarded as marriages, as the Marriage Act of 1961 does not currently recognise them. Associated certificates such as the DFAT "Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage" (CNI) or state and territory "Single Status Certificates" are also available. Proof of divorce certificates are issued by the Family Court of Australia (or the Family Court of Western Australia for residents of that state).
- Marriage Act 1949 (as amended)
- Marriage Act 1961 (Australia)
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