Possible 'driving test' for wedding celebrants on the way

8:28 am on 9 September 2020

Prospective wedding celebrants will be required to run a mock ceremony and newly-weds will be asked for their feedback.

wedding mens shoes and edge of gown

File image. Photo: Gianni Scognamiglio / Unsplash

They're among several changes being looked at as part of the recruitment and renewal process for independent marriage celebrants, following a review to address concerns about the number and quality of independent wedding celebrants.

The country's 10,000 celebrants perform 24,000 marriages and 60 civil unions each year. Of these around 63 percent are affiliated with a religious body or approved organisation.

The Registrar-General of births, deaths and marriages Jeff Montgomery said the survey focussed on the 3000 independent marriage and civil union celebrants. It found the current system generally worked well, with enough celebrants to meet demand.

Montgomery said over the past couple of years, there had been conflicting concerns about the number of celebrants. Current celebrants complained too many were being appointed, while new celebrants applied, saying there weren't enough in an area.

The review couldn't find a community which had too many or too few celebrants, Montgomery said. For example, in the Bay of Plenty, 50 celebrants thought there were too many celebrants in the region and 58 did not.

"If you're a celebrant you probably think there are the right number, if you're not a celebrant you probably think there could be one more, so it really comes down to the individuals and their perception of whether or not there are enough celebrants in the area and are those celebrants the right kind of celebrants?" he said.

Montgomery said it was important there was a good range of celebrants available across the country for couples to choose from.

To become a celebrant people pay a $150 fee, pass a short online test, provide four references and undergo a police check.

Montgomery said the test was relatively easy and focussed on the legal requirements and the administrative processes a celebrant must follow. He said they were looking at strengthening the test to make sure those who were appointed, understood the requirements of the job.

Feedback from existing celebrants showed they felt new celebrants should be required to conduct a simple wedding ceremony, before they're appointed. As a result the department was looking at introducing a driving test, which would be done by Department of Internal Affairs staff who already interview perspective celebrants.

Montgomery said the test would be part of that interview process.

Overall the review found complaints about independent celebrants were rare, maybe one or two a year.

"They tend to be around the style of the ceremony rather than the legal content of the ceremony," Montgomery said.

But the report suggested there may be other reasons for such a low number of complaints; the marriage had happened and was a one-off experience which most people were unlikely to repeat in a hurry. Also, newly weds didn't want to taint the memory of their big day with a complaint and couples felt they could address their concerns through word of mouth.

But as a result of the review, couples would be given the opportunity to provide feedback to his office on the quality of their celebrant. Any concerns raised, would be taken into account when the celebrant's registration was renewed, he said.

"Each year we'll send a request out to all the couples who've got married and ask them if they had any concerns about their celebrant and those concerns will be factored in when I make my decision about renewing a celebrant's annual licence," he said.

"The question that I'll be asking couples is; did the celebrant complete the legal requirements adequately and did they have any concerns about the professionalism of the celebrant?" he said.

But Montgomery said he wouldn't refuse a renewal because the celebrant's style wasn't to the couples' liking.

"The style of the ceremony is really for the couple and the celebrant to agree to as part of their contractual arrangements. My interest is making sure the celebrant completes the legal components of the marriage and that they do so in an appropriate manner as someone who provides public service. The actual style of the wedding is something for the celebrant and the couple to agree on," he said.

In another change, celebrants complained about the annual renewal system which coincides with wedding season November to March, their busiest time of year.

Currently the law says celebrant renewals need to occur at the end of the calendar year. But Montgomery said they would be working with the incoming government to change the date of renewals, so they don't coincide with the start of wedding season.

Most of the changes will be implemented before the end of the year.

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