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Family law

Marriages, civil unions and de facto relationships


Who can get married

Marriage Act 1955, s 2, 15, 17, 18 Family Proceedings Act 1980, s 31

Marriage is a legal relationship between two people. Two people can get married if:

  • neither of you are currently married or in a civil union with someone else, and
  • you’re 18 or older, or, if either or both of you are aged 16 or 17, you’ve got permission from a Family Court judge to get married (see: “16 and 17-year-olds need a judge’s permission to get married” on page 256), and
  • you’re not closely related by blood, marriage, civil union or adoption (a list of the kinds of relationships that aren’t allowed is in Schedule 2 of the Marriage Act 1955).

As long as you fit those criteria, you can get married. Marriage is legally defined as “the union of two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity”. However, ministers and priests can legally refuse to marry a couple on religious grounds.

How you get married: The process

Marriage Act 1955, ss 21, 23, 24, 30

You’ll need to apply for a marriage licence before you can get married. You can do this online at marriages.services.govt.nz, or you can fill out and post a paper form. You can find this “Notice of Intended Marriage” form online, here (or go to govt.nz and search “get a marriage licence”).

On the form, you’ll need to include the details of the marriage celebrant. This is the person who will officiate your wedding. They need to be registered to do this – for example, they should be a minister, a Registrar of Marriage, or someone else who has been officially approved as marriage celebrant. You can find a list of registered marriage celebrants at celebrants.dia.govt.nz.

As part of your application, either you or your partner will need to make a a formal statement, called a statutory declaration, which you have to sign in front of a Registrar of Marriages. A list of locations of where you can sign this is included at the end of the form.

You’ll also have to pay a fee. If either of you have been married or in a civil union before, you’ll need to give the Registrar a copy of the divorce paperwork (called a “Dissolution Order”).

After you’ve filed your notice and at least three days have passed, the Registrar will issue you with a licence allowing the wedding to go ahead.

The wedding has to take place within three months after the licence is issued.

How marriages end

How does a marriage formally end?

If you decide to separate, you may want to create a formal agreement about the decision, called a “separation agreement”. This isn’t legally necessary, but can be a useful record of when you separated if one or both of you later applies for a divorce (a “Dissolution Order”). For more about this process, see: “Separating”.

The final formal step in a marriage ending is when the Family Court issues a divorce. You can only apply for a divorce two years after you separated. For more about this process, see: “Divorce: Getting a Dissolution Order”.

A married couple can also change their relationship from a marriage to a civil union (or the other way around) without getting divorced first. You can find the form called a “Notice of intended civil union, change of relationship from marriage” online, here (or go to govt.nz – search “change marriage to civil union”).

Forced marriages

Laws that protect against forced marriages

Crimes Act 1961, ss128B, 134 Marriage Act 1955, ss 17, 18 Family Proceedings Act 1980, s 31(1)(a)(ii)

A number of laws in New Zealand address the problem of forced marriages.

If you’re under 16, the law says you are too young to consent to getting married.

The law also says you don’t consent to marriage if you were pressured or forced into it, regardless of your age.

This means that, even if you had a wedding ceremony or signed a marriage certificate, if you were under 16 and/or pressured into it, the marriage legally doesn’t count. This is sometimes phrased as the marriage being “void”.

To make things clear, you can go to the Family Court to get a court order declaring that the marriage doesn’t legally exist.

16 and 17-year-olds need a judge’s permission to get married

Marriage Act 1955, ss 18–20

If one or both of you are 16 or 17 and you want to get married, you’ll need to apply formally to the Family Court to get permission from a judge. To make sure you’re not being forced into the marriage, the judge will only give permission if they’re satisfied that:

  • you’re choosing to apply, without being forced or pressured to do it, and
  • you understand what you’re asking the judge to do, and you genuinely want the judge to give permission, and
  • the marriage will be in your best interests.

In deciding whether the marriage is in your best interests, the judge has to consider how old and how mature you are; what you think about the marriage and what’s in your own best interests; what your parents think; and any other relevant information that’s available to the judge.

The judge can appoint a lawyer to represent you. The government will pay the lawyer’s fees.

If the judge thinks it will be essential for deciding the case, they can also get a qualified person to provide a cultural report to explain aspects of your cultural and religious background. However, the judge has to take into account whether you think getting the report is a good idea.

If you get consent, you will be given a Court Order. You need to attach the Court Order to your marriage licence application form and post it to Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Next Section | Civil unions

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Relationships and break-ups

Where to go for more support

Community Law

Your local Community Law Centre can provide you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Family Court

This Family Court provides a range of information relevant to adult relationships, including information on separation, dissolution, relationship property and the relevant court processes.

Website: www.justice.govt.nz/family/separation-divorce
Application for a dissolution of marriage (divorce): www.justice.govt.nz/family/separation-divorce/apply-for-a-divorce

Births, Death & Marriages (Department of Internal Affairs)

Births, Death and Marriages have information about marriages and civil unions. You can also apply online for your marriage licence or download the application forms.

Website: www.govt.nz/organisations/births-deaths-and-marriages
Email: bdm@dia.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 22 52 52

New Zealand Law Society

The Law Society has helpful information on what happens when your relationship ends.

Information on separation, divorce, care of children and maintenance: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/what-happens-when-your-relationship-breaks-up

Information on dividing up relationship property: www.lawsociety.org.nz/for-the-public/common-legal-issues/dividing-up-relationship-property

Ministry of Social Development – Work and Income (WINZ)

Relationships often have a significant impact on personal finances. For information on how your changing relationship status might affect what benefits you are entitled to, contact Work and Income.

Website: www.workandincome.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 559 009

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