This entry is part 2 of 28 in the series Marriage Legalities
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Marriageable age in Australia

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This entry is part 2 of 28 in the series Marriage Legalities

One of the legal requirements for getting married in Australia is that the parties to the marriage must be of marriageable age (s11, Marriage Act 1961). But what is marriageable age? What does that phrase actually mean?

Marriageable age

In the most simple terms, marriageable age in Australia is 18 years old. Both parties need to have turned 18 before they can marry.  The vast, vast majority of marriages in Australia are between two people who are 18 years or older. If the parties are not of marriageable age at the time of the marriage, the marriage would be void (s23B, Marriage Act 1961).

However, there are exceptional circumstances in which a person who is 16 or 17 years old can marry in Australia. We call this marriage of a minor.

Marriage of a minor

One person getting married has to be 18 or older. The other can be 16 or 17 if they can prove the circumstances of their case are “exceptional and unusual” (ss12-21, Marriage Act 1961). The legislation doesn’t tell us what would count as “exceptional and unusual”; a judge or magistrate is the person who gets to make that call.

A person aged 16 or 17 who wants to marry a person aged 18 or over needs to get:

  • approval from a Judge or magistrate
  • consent of their parents/guardians (unless this requirement has been dispensed with).

They need to provide these approvals to the authorised celebrant before the marriage can go ahead. They must marry within three months of the Judge’s approval being granted.

Do minors still get married in Australia?

All that said, I don’t know of any minors who have been married in Australia since the 1970s. I’ve asked lots of celebrants who have been around for a long time, and it just doesn’t seem to happen anymore.

Dally Messenger III, in his book Murphy’s Law and the Pursuit of Happiness, argued that when the contraceptive pill become widely available in the late 1970s, marriges of minors dried up; until then they’d mostly because of a teenage pregnancy!

So now you know! When your celebrant asks if you’re of marriageable age, they’re really asking if you’re aged 18 or over.

Signing the Notice of Intended Marriage before you turn 18

It’s absolutely fine to sign the Notice of Intended Marriage before you turn 18 without getting all the approvals listed above, as long as the marriage is planned for after your 18th birthday!

More information

Click here for a full overview of the legal requirements of marriage in Australia.

Read all the posts in my series about marriage legalities here.

Find all the posts in my series about Australian wedding ceremonies here.

If you’re a celebrant wanting help with all things celebrancy, come and join us at the Celebrant Institute!

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