Formalising relationships 

At what point does my relationship become de facto?

If you live together as a couple, you’re legally considered to be in a de facto relationship. The specific criteria depends on the purpose for defining your relationship, for example the definition used by Studylink (for purposes of obtaining a study allowance) may be different from that used by the Family Court when it comes to dividing up relationship property

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What documents can we use as evidence that we are in a de facto relationship?

It will depend on who requires the proof of your relationship, but it could include:

  • a joint tenancy agreement or mortgage document, 
  • birth certificates for children of your relationship, 
  • photos of you both as a couple, 
  • mail addressed to both of you at the same place and time, 
  • joint bank accounts, 
  • joint utilities bills, 
  • evidence that other people recognise the relationship
  • a visa granted by Immigration New Zealand on the basis of the relationship
  • a statutory declaration from you and your partner that confirms your de facto relationship.

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What do I need to do before I can get married?

Getting married can take months to plan depending on how formal or large you want your wedding ceremony to be. This can seem overwhelming, so the best plan is to take it step by step:

  • Decide where and when you want to get married. You need to do this before you apply for a marriage licence. There are two types of ceremony – a civil ceremony at the registry office, or a public ceremony held by an authorised celebrant at the place of your choice
  • Choose a registered marriage celebrant
  • Get a marriage licence (see the next question). You need to be at least 16 years old to get married. If you are under 18, you will need your parents’ or guardian’s consent to be legally married.
  • Then you can organise the “fun” stuff – the dress, the guest list, the music, the wedding reception, …

The whole process is explained in more detail on the website.

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How do I get a marriage licence?

You have to be at least 16 years old, and if you’re under 18, you need to have signed permission from your parent or guardian on a Consent to Marriage of a person aged 16 or 17 form.

To get a licence you need to complete a Notice of Intended Marriage, which you can find online at the website. Marriage licences cost around $150.00 if you are using a celebrant or around $240 if you are getting married at a registry office. You will need to pay this amount when you return the completed Notice of Intended Marriage.

As part of your application, either you or your partner needs to make a statutory declaration – this is a formal statement saying there is no legal reason why the two of you shouldn’t marry, that all your details are true, and that you and your partner are not closely related. The statutory declaration must be signed by either you or your partner in front of a Registrar of Marriages. You can find the nearest Registrar by contacting the Births, Deaths and Marriages office on 0800 22 52 52.

Once this process is complete, the Registrar will issue your marriage licence within three calendar days. It is valid for three months, and can be picked up from the Registrar’s office, or you can pay to have it couriered to you within 2 weeks. You will need to discuss this with the Registrar’s office.

More about marriage licences, including civil union licences, is on the website.
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What are the legal requirements of a marriage ceremony?

Once you have your marriage licence, you can proceed with organising the marriage ceremony. It’s up to you and your spouse-to-be where you’ll hold the ceremony (e.g. in a church), whether there’ll be flower girls or singing, and so on – but there are some legal requirements which must be fulfilled before your marriage becomes official:

  • A marriage celebrant or Registrar of Marriages (at a registry office) must perform the ceremony.
  • The ceremony must be performed in front of at least two witnesses.
  • During the ceremony, each party must say a specific phrase similar to “I, Bob, take you, Sheila, to be my legal wife”.
  • Both parties and the witnesses must sign registration forms.

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We want to get married in a church, but my fiancée is an atheist. Would we be allowed?

This is a matter that you can take up with the minister or priest of the church you’d like to get married in. It’s up to them whether they agree, and they may set conditions, for example, they may want you both to attend classes about marriage before you get married.

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Can gay couples get married in New Zealand?

Yes. Since August 2013 same-sex couples have the same marriage rights as heterosexual couples.

If you plan to marry in New Zealand but normally reside in a country where same-sex marriage is not legal, you’ll need to know that your marriage won’t be legally recognised in your home country.

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I’ve lost my marriage certificate. How do I go about getting a replacement certificate?

You can apply to Births, Deaths and Marriages for a new marriage certificate:

  • online via RealMe (if you are registered for RealMe) - this is the best option for ordering printouts and historical records;
  • online via the Department of Internal Affairs’ certificates service - if you don’t have a RealMe login but can provide details of your marriage registration;
  • by calling 0800 22 52 52 (or 64 4 463 9362 from overseas); or 
  • by sending a completed BDM93M Request for Marriage Certificate form.

It costs around $35 for an official marriage certificate and can take up to eight days to process your request.

More information, including the downloadable application form, is on the website.

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I’m getting married overseas and have been told I need a certificate to prove I’m no longer married to my ex. How do I get one?

Some countries require you to present a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage, before you are allowed to marry there. It proves that you are not already married or in a civil union in your own country, and that you are eligible to be married under New Zealand law.

To apply for one, you need to complete a BDM189 Application for a Certificate of No Impediment to Marriage or Civil Union form and pay about $170.

It can take around four weeks for your application to be processed, before you receive the certificate.

More about getting married overseas is on the website.

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What is a civil union?

A civil union is very similar to a marriage. It was originally intended to allow couples who could not marry (e.g. because they were same-sex couples) to receive the same rights as those in a marriage, for example the right to be buried in the same plot as their partner.

You can find more information about civil unions on the Getting married section of the website.

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Is it true that if you want to get married on board a ship, you can get the captain to perform the ceremony?

It depends on the country where the ship is registered, as the laws and regulations around the legality of marriage ceremonies performed at sea vary according to the country:

  • If the ship is registered in Bermuda then you can get married on board while the ship is at sea and by the ship’s captain, because Bermuda law allows it.
  • Otherwise, you can only get married while the ship is in a port, and only by a registered marriage celebrant (or other appropriate official if the ship is at a non-New Zealand port).

If you want to get married while on board a ship you will need to plan for it well before you board.

There are cruise companies which offer wedding packages. Depending where the ship was registered, the package will include a wedding ceremony either at sea (performed by the ship’s captain) or in a port (and performed by a marriage celebrant or other appropriate official from the port city).