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The unintended consequences of renewing your marriage vows

Be careful when renewing your marriage vows as it may have unintended consequences.

In a recent decision of the Family Court of Australia (18 May 2017), a judge was required to consider the effect of a second marriage between the same couple, which was registered under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act in New South Wales.

The circumstances were that a couple had been married by civil ceremony in 2008. In the next year, a religious ceremony was held with friends and family, at which the husband and wife purported to renew their vows.

There are some strict requirements relative to these ceremonies, set out under the Marriage Act that operates Australia wide. It appears that these strict requirements were not followed although the wife asserts that she and the husband did tell the marriage celebrant that they were already married to each other. As a consequence of that second ceremony, the marriage celebrant registered that marriage, not knowing that the first marriage had been registered. The couple did not know of the registration of the second marriage, or that the marriage celebrant intended to register that marriage.

After the separation of the couple, the husband applied for the dissolution of the first marriage (divorce) but discovered that the second marriage had been registered.

The Marriage Act does permit a couple to go through a second ceremony of marriage in Australia, provided that the celebrant is informed of the existing marriage, in a written document signed by them and witnessed by the celebrant.

To be sure that the husband and the wife in a ceremony to renew their vows do not get into the same difficulty that the couple in this case got into, it would be a good idea if the husband and the wife did not sign the traditional certificate of marriage but that if the husband and the wife do require some document to evidence the renewing of their marriage vows, a different document be prepared making it clear that it is not intended that the renewal of vows will constitute a second marriage.

In the case in question the judge made an order declaring that the second marriage was invalid, which then enabled the husband to divorce his wife.

Cecil Black


The contents of this document are not intended to create any legal relationship between the author and the reader.

The material contained herein is designed to provide you (the reader) with some important but general information and should be read in association with legal advice given to you.

You should not rely or act on this information without seeking legal advice specific to your circumstances.



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