26 Dec 2017

DIA aims to reduce number of marriage celebrants

12:33 pm on 26 December 2017

More than ten percent of independent marriage celebrants have opted not to renew their licences, as officials try to reduce the number of celebrants who only do one marriage a year.

Marriage generic

Marriage generic Photo: bondvit/123RF

In May, the Department of Internal Affairs introduced a registration fee and an annual renewal fee saying celebrants, as professionals, should bear the costs.

At the time the Registrar General of Births, Deaths and Marriages Jeff Montgomery said about half of the 2500 independent celebrants conducted one ceremony a year, often making it difficult for couples to find someone.

"There are enough celebrants, the difficulty is that sometimes some celebrants aren't actually available to couples when they are approached, for a range of reasons. Sometimes it can be family reasons, or work reasons and sometimes it's because a celebrant isn't particularly interested in offering a service to the wider community. Over time we're looking to reduce the number of celebrants who aren't offering a service to the wider community," he said.

He says if celebrants do less than one or two weddings a year, they are asked why this is the case, and in some cases there were valid reasons.

"It might be that they live in a community where there's not many people, so not many weddings are occurring, or they may have had personal circumstances that meant that they weren't really available during that 12 month period," he said.

"So we give celebrants an opportunity to explain why they are doing few weddings and many celebrants will choose not to renew and pay the fee when we ask those questions."

Figures released by the Department show 2467 marriage celebrants had their applications renewed in the latest renewal period, but 293 - about 12 percent - were removed from the register.

Mr Montgomery said he expected the number of celebrants to reduce further, but at the moment there had not been a major reduction in the number of celebrants.

He said the number of celebrants fluctuated during the year.

"We start off relatively low at the start of the year as a number of celebrants retire and then the numbers will build up as new celebrants complete the celebrants training courses and apply to become celebrants and then they may or may not continue in subsequent years."

The annual renewal process happens in November and December each year, with a new list of celebrants issued in January.

Mr Montgomery said this year's renewal had seen higher response rates than previous years with celebrants actively renewing their registrations within the first few weeks.

"We've introduced a new online renewal process and that has sped the process up, so many celebrants were able to renew their licence on the day or the day after we opened renewal applications. So we've seen celebrants renewing much faster than they have in previous years."

No more trips to the registry office

A new law expected to be passed in the new year will let couples skip calling in at a registry office before their wedding day.

Couples are currently able to apply for a marriage licence online, and also order a marriage certificate online, but the licence must be signed in front of a marriage registrar.

The Registrar-General of Births Deaths and Marriages, Jeff Montgomery, says a bill before Parliament removes the need for a physical signature.

He says once that becomes law, the entire process will be online, and couples will no longer be required to go to a registry office or courthouse.

Mr Montgomery said it's the celebrant's responsibility to ensure the right people are present and the marriage is lawful.

About 23,000 marriages and civil unions are registered in New Zealand each year.