The Department of Internal Affairs

Te Tari Taiwhenua | Department of Internal Affairs

Building a safe, prosperous and respected nation


Weddings and civil unions during lockdown

14 April 2020

Information for the media from Jeff Montgomery, Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages

Te Tari Taiwhenua, Department of Internal Affairs is aware of questions about weddings during the COVID-19 lock-down and would like you to be aware of the following information.

First and foremost, the Registrar-General does not encourage nor condone marriage ceremonies taking place during the lock-down. All New Zealanders must comply with Ministry of Health guidance about events and gatherings during the COVID-19 lock-down.

Read more information on the COVID-19 Government website.

Approval for weddings and civil unions

Marriage licences are issued by the Registrar-General. A recent article in the media implied that the Registrar-General has the power to give permission for ceremonies to go ahead or determine whether they are essential. This is not the case.

The Registrar-General’s role is to issue licences where the couple meet the legal requirements, to register celebrants and to register marriages and civil unions that have been legally solemnised. The Registrar-General does not approve or decline individual ceremonies.

To be clear, ‘permissions’ and ‘exemptions’ are not something that the Registrar-General has authority to issue.

It is up to the couple and the celebrant to use their judgement as to whether the marriage is essential and should proceed.

Advice for couples

To repeat, the Registrar-General does not encourage nor condone marriage ceremonies taking place during the lock-down. He acknowledges that cancelling and postponing wedding ceremonies is deeply disappointing for many couples and their families.

If a couple believes, for whatever reason, that their marriage will go ahead, the Registrar-General advises that they only use a celebrant in their bubble or who lives very close by (for example, across the street), and follow every aspect of the Ministry of Health distancing and sanitising guidelines. There are more than 10,000 celebrants in New Zealand so a local celebrant should be possible.

In such cases, it must only be attended by the couple, their two witnesses and the celebrant. Physical distancing, protective equipment and COVID-19 hygiene requirements should be used.

Advice for celebrants

The Registrar-General strongly advises celebrants to carefully consider any request to conduct a marriage and whether it is the right thing to do at this time, taking into account the Ministry of Health’s guidance.

Celebrants need to be aware that this is not an essential service. They cannot justify their travel with the need to perform a marriage, even if it’s for someone who may not have long to live.

No celebrant is obliged to conduct a ceremony.

Advice about ‘virtual’ weddings

Under the Marriage Act, a marriage can’t occur virtually and the couple, celebrant and witnesses must be physically present in the same place. The marriage licence application and return of the signed papers can be done online.

How to get a refund for a marriage licence

The Registrar-General’s team is offering refunds to those who are not able to use the marriage licence within three months of getting it because of COVID-19.

Email us for a refund.