Did you know you can officiate your friends’ and family members’ marriage ceremonies in Alberta?
For a long time, only appointed civil marriage commissioners could officiate weddings in Alberta. The provincial government recently changed its policies to allow members of the public to perform these ceremonies. The new rules allow any Canadian permanent resident over the age of 18 to perform a non-religious ceremony in Alberta for one day free of cost by becoming a temporary marriage commissioner.
Who can officiate a marriage in Alberta?
Civil marriage commissioners appointed by the provincial government, registered clergy and temporary marriage commissioners can all perform in-person marriage ceremonies in Alberta. “Zoom” weddings and other teleconferencing arrangements where the officiant is not physically present to perform the marriage are not allowed in Alberta.
What is a temporary marriage commissioner? Who can become one?
Temporary marriage commissioners can perform one non-religious marriage ceremony on one specified day as long as they do not charge a fee. Any Canadian permanent resident over the age of 18 is eligible to apply. The application is free of charge.
The temporary marriage commissioner program has been around for a long time, but until very recently only certain categories of people could apply. These people included Members of Parliament, judges and lawyers. The general public could only apply to the program if they could prove no civil marriage commissioner was available on the marriage ceremony date. This was difficult to prove considering the large number of appointed commissioners. Because of these difficulties, the government opened these categories to include the general public.
How do you apply for a temporary marriage commissioner license? What materials will you receive?
You need to fill out a temporary marriage commissioner application. This application asks for your personal information, including your legal name, birth date and mailing address, as well as personal information for the people who want to be married. You will also need to give information about where and on what date the marriage ceremony will take place. You, as well as the to-be-married couple, must sign the application.
The application can take up to a week to process, but it is often faster than that. To account for potential delays, give yourself at least a week between the submission of your application and the proposed marriage ceremony date.
Once they have approved your application, the Alberta Vital Statistics office will email you a marriage commissioner license allowing you to perform the marriage ceremony on the date you stated on your application. You will also receive:
- a suggested script for what to say during the marriage ceremony
- guidelines to follow before, during and after the marriage ceremony
- guides for filling out the Registration of Marriage and detaching it from the marriage license, and
- a blank Certificate of Marriage for you to fill out and print before the ceremony.
What is the difference between the Registration of Marriage, a marriage license and the Certificate of Marriage?
The couple whose ceremony you are officiating must get a two-page document from an Alberta registry sometime in the 3 months before the ceremony. The top part of this document is the Registration of Marriage, and the bottom half is the marriage license. The couple must give this document to you, the marriage commissioner.
Before performing the ceremony, you will fill in the witnesses’ information and other parts of the document you are responsible for filling out. But no one may sign the document until after the ceremony. The people who will sign the document following the ceremony are the people who have just been married, both witnesses, and you.
After the ceremony, you must detach the marriage license from the Registration of Marriage. Then you have to mail the Registration of Marriage to Vital Statistics in Alberta as legal proof of the marriage within 48 hours of the ceremony. You must keep the marriage license for your own records.
The Certificate of Marriage is a separate document prepared by you as the marriage commissioner. You must sign this document immediately after the ceremony and give it to the married couple. Vital Statistics does not get a copy of the Certificate of Marriage.
What do you need to do to prepare?
Preparing for a marriage ceremony as a temporary marriage commissioner is simple. You should:
- print the Certificate of Marriage in colour on stiffer paper, and
- figure out what you would like to say during the marriage ceremony.
Although Vital Statistics gives you a suggested script of what to say during the ceremony, you do not need to follow it word for word. You must ensure each person getting married says both of the following legally binding statements in their vows:
- “I do solemnly declare that I do not know of any lawful impediment why I, (name) may not be joined in matrimony to (name).”
- “I call on those persons present to witness that I, (name), do take you, (name) to be my lawful wedded (wife/husband/spouse).”
However, beyond these statements, you are not required to say any particular passages. You must ensure that the couple is fluent in the languages spoken during the ceremony in order for the marriage to be valid.
As a temporary marriage commissioner, you cannot say any religious statements, including blessings and prayers, during the marriage ceremony. Locate a member of the clergy if the couple would like these kinds of statements made during the ceremony.
Additionally, ensure there are two credible adult witnesses available for the marriage ceremony. These individuals will also need to be fluent in the languages spoken at the marriage ceremony. They cannot be cognitively impaired and must fully understand the forms they will sign related to the marriage.
You should fill in the names of the witnesses on the Certificate of Marriage and Registration of Marriage (without signatures) before the ceremony. All relevant parties will sign the Registration of Marriage after the ceremony is finished.
What do you need to do after the ceremony?
After the ceremony, the newly married couple and their witnesses must sign the Registration of Marriage. As the marriage commissioner, you must also fill out a portion of the Registration of Marriage certifying that you performed the ceremony.
Once the Registration of Marriage is complete, detach the marriage license portion at the bottom of the document. Keep the marriage license for your own records. You must forward the Registration of Marriage portion of the document to Vital Statistics within 48 hours of the marriage ceremony. You typically do this through regular mail.
You can correct errors with an amendment through Vital Statistics. Vital Statistics will ask for evidence to support the correction and prepare an affidavit for you to sign.
Of course, you cannot marry people who are not eligible to be married in Alberta.
What do couples need to get married?
As previously mentioned, to get married in Alberta, you need a valid marriage license. This license costs $40, plus a service fee based on your registry agent. A couple can apply for a marriage license together at the registry agent office. Each person getting married will have to provide acceptable identification, swear one or more affidavits, and provide required personal information. You cannot be heavily medicated or under the influence of other drugs or alcohol.
Marriage licenses are immediately valid once they are issued—meaning you can have a marriage ceremony on the same day the license is issued. Marriage licenses stay valid for three months from the day they are issued. A couple can be married at any date within that three-month period as long as the marriage ceremony takes place in Alberta.
Who can get married in Alberta?
To get married without anyone else’s consent, both people getting married must be at least 18 years old. If you are older than 16 but younger than 18, you can get a marriage license if both your parents or legal guardians give their consent to the marriage. Both people must be currently unmarried. Both people cannot be related to one another as grandparent, parent, child, sibling or grandchild, by whole blood, half blood or adoption. There are no citizen or residency requirements—neither person is required to be an Albertan or Canadian, but the marriage itself must take place in Alberta.
If either of you are divorced, you must have proof of divorce to apply for a marriage license. This proof of divorce must be the final document (such as a Certificate of Divorce), and the document must be in English. If either of you are widowed or have never been married, no additional documents are required.
Looking for more information?
Read CPLEA’s Marriage FAQs.
More articles on marriage:
The information in this article was correct at time of publishing. The law may have changed since then. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of LawNow or the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta.
Looking for articles like this one to be delivered right to your inbox?