FAQS about Legal aspects of Marriage
How do I actually “Get Married”?
If you are getting married in Ontario, you can have a civil ceremony performed by a priest, judge or a justice of the peace – or in a ceremony led by a Humanist Officiant who, under the Marriage Act, qualifies as clergy.
During the ceremony, when the legal requirements are met including the signing of the Marriage Licence, the marriage is then “solemnized” and you are legally married.
1. What is the minimum legal age to get married in Ontario?
A person needs to be at least 18 years old to get married without parental consent. If a person is between 16 to 18 years old, they must get written consent from both parents.
2. Does a couple require a marriage licence before they get married?
Yes, if they want their marriage to be recognized as legal. If, however, they want a wedding that is purely ceremonial in nature, then a licence is not required.
3. How many witnesses are needed for signing the marriage documents?
A couple needs two witnesses, each 18 years of age or older. These can be family members, friends, or anyone else who knows the couple.
4. Who may perform legal marriages in Ontario?
Only persons recognized by the Marriage Act and licensed by the Marriage Office of the Registrar General are allowed to solemnize marriages. Humanist Officiants are recognized in this way.
5. What documents are signed during a marriage ceremony?
The Marriage Licence, the Record of Solemnization, and the Marriage Register. The first two are included in the package a couple receives from a city clerk’s office. The third is the book each registered Officiant receives from the Marriage Office of the Registrar General.
6. Who signs what in the marriage documents?
The couple, their witnesses, and the Officiant sign the Marriage Licence and the Marriage Register. The witnesses and the Officiant also sign the Record of Solemnization.
7. What are the categories of authorized marriage officials?
Authorized marriage officials fall into one of two categories: Clergy or Civil. Humanist Officiants fall into the Clergy category even though their ceremonies are non-religious in nature. Judges, justices of the peace, and municipal clerks fall into the second category – Civil.
8. Are marriages by Humanist Officiants recognized as religious or civil marriages?
According to the Marriage Act, marriages solemnized by Humanist Officiants are recognized as religious in the eyes of the law, but actually are secular in nature.
9. Do Humanist Officiants incorporate religious wording into their ceremonies?
No. Humanist Officiants perform secular ceremonies without religious nuances. If, however, the couple requests a family member or friend to offer a blessing or religious reading, that is their call.
10. Are Humanist Officiants obliged to include religious wording into their ceremonies if the couple asks them to do so?
No. Humanist Officiants are not obliged to do or say anything in a ceremony that will compromise their ethics, humanist principles, or life stance.
11. What is considered a “civil marriage”?
According to the Marriage Act, a “civil marriage” is a marriage performed by a judge or justice of the peace and usually takes place in a municipal government building and may or may not be secular in nature. Marriages performed by Humanist Officiants are not considered civil marriages.
12. Under what section in the Marriage Act are Humanist Officiants covered?
Humanist Officiants obtain their authority to perform marriages under Section 20 of the Marriage Act, under: WHO MAY SOLEMNIZE MARRIAGE:
Who May Solemnize Marriage
20. (1) No person shall solemnize a marriage unless he or she is authorized by or under section 24 or is registered under this section as a person authorized to solemnize marriage. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.3, s. 20 (1).
13. Under what section in the Marriage Act are judges and justices of the peace covered?
Judges and justices of the peace obtain their authority to perform marriages under Section 24 of the Marriage Act, under: CIVIL MARRIAGE:
24. (1) A judge, a justice of the peace or any other person of a class designated by the regulations may solemnize marriages under the authority of a licence. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.3, s. 24 (1).
14. May a couple write their own vows?
Yes, a couple may indeed write their own vows. They must, at some point in their ceremony however, affirm their decision to be legally wed in front of witnesses. Humanist Officiants have legal flexibility as to how the marriage question is addressed due to their designation under the Marriage Act.
15. Is there anything specific that needs to be said during a couple’s marriage vows?
A couple must, in some way, affirm their decision to be legally wed in front of witnesses. The wording is up to the couple and their Officiant. Some officiants prefer to follow a traditional wording required for judges and justices of the peace; others prefer a more personalized approach — either one is acceptable. Because Humanist officiants are authorized as religious officials (even though their ceremonies are secular in nature) under the Marriage Act, they have more flexibility in the wording of their ceremonies. Indeed, this flexibility is one of the reasons couples seek out Humanist Officiants, rather than go to city hall, to get married. Both are legal, just different.
16. Where can I find a list of Ontario-‐registered clergy (including Humanist Officiants)?
See this Government of Ontario link.
17. What makes a Humanist ceremony legal?
The items below that occur in every Humanist wedding make a marriage real and legal:
- The couple’s attendance at their own wedding;
- The public declaration from a licensed officiant of a couple’s willingness to be married;
- The affirmations and personal vows spoken by the couple in front of witnesses;
- The solemnization of the marriage in front of witnesses by a licensed officiant;
- The marriage documents signed by the couple, the witnesses, and the licensed officiant;
- The signed Record of Solemnization given to the couple by the licensed officiant;
- The registration of the marriage by the Marriage Office of the Registrar General
18. When I get married, does my name automatically change?
No. Couples sometimes assume that getting married changes a bride’s name. Getting married does not legally change a name. Although either partner may legally assume their spouse’s name, this does not constitute a legal change of name.
You may want to legally change your name as a result of marriage or a common-law relationship. You can change your name to the surname your partner has at your union or to a surname combining both your surnames in either order. If you change your name within 90 days after your marriage, there is no fee. For information on changing your name, go to the Ontario Government website