Who can witness a marriage in US, UK, Australia and New Zealand?

Here are the rules for choosing a witness for a marriage in England and Wales, N. Ireland, Scotland, the various states of the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

England and Wales – who can witness a registry office wedding or a religious wedding?

The law is that you need two people of at least 18 years old to attend your ceremony as witnesses at a Register Office, a venue licensed for weddings or in a church.  Witnesses sign the marriage register.  All witnesses in the UK must be able to understand English and understand what the marriage ceremony is about.  Religious officiants often ask to meet the witnesses, as well as the bride and groom, before the marriage.

N. Ireland – who can witness a wedding?

Two people are required but they need only be aged 16 or over to act as witnesses.  Witnesses sign the marriage schedule at the service.  In a civil ceremony the registrar will give the couple their marriage certificate immediately afterwards.  In religious and humanist ceremonies the couple need to return the signed marriage schedule to the local registrar within three days and will then be issued with a marriage certificate. 

Scotland – who can witness a wedding?

Witnesses can be 16 years old or more.  You need two of them.  You need to give their details when you give notice of your forthcoming marriage to the register office.  Note that you need to ask your witnesses how they will sign at the ceremony.  For example a witness might sign as J Smith, Jon Smith or Jonathan Smith etc.  The registrar needs to know this when you give details of the names of your witnesses.

Witnesses sign the marriage schedule at the ceremony and the couple need to ensure it is returned to the registrar within three days.  They will be sent their marriage certificate on payment of a small fee.

You can find more details on the government website here. 

USA.  Do you need a witness for a marriage?

The laws surrounding the witnessing of a marriage differ from state to state in the US.  Where witnesses are required they must usually be at least 16 years of age.  All witnesses must provide photo ID and proof of age.  Witnesses print their name on the marriage license. 

Once the marriage is registered the marriage certificate is available for the couple.  Note that each state has its own time limit for registering the marriage after the ceremony ranging from 10 days to no limit.

Here are the states where witnesses have to be present at the marriage ceremony.  Unless  stated otherwise you will need two witnesses aged 16 or over . 

Alaska, Arizona (over 18),California (one or two), Delaware (over 18), Iowa (one), Kansas (over 18), Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan (over 18), Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada (one), New Jersey (one), New Mexico, New York (one), N. Carolina, N. Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, S Dakota (one), Utah, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

In all other US states a witness is not required at a marriage ceremony.

Australia – who can witness a wedding?

A marriage requires the presence of two witnesses aged at least 18 who sign the marriage certificate given at the end of the ceremony.  This certificate is known as a commemorative marriage certificate.  Once the local registrar has received confirmation of the marriage he or she will issue a certified marriage certificate, usually in around two weeks, which he or she has signed and sealed.

New Zealand – who can witness a wedding?

You need two witnesses although there are no age restrictions as long as they can understand the ceremony.  They will sign the marriage licence.  There is an immediate certificate available to the couple but a copy has to be sent to the registry for births, marriages and deaths so that a certified certificate can be issued.

How to choose witnesses for a wedding

The age of a witness depends on where the marriage takes place (see above).  In theory anyone can act as a witness including close relatives, bridesmaids, the best man and friends so it is possible to keep the wedding very small.  In most cases you can even invite a stranger to witness a marriage.  Occasionally religious ceremonies have stricter rules governing who can be a witness so it’s wise to discuss this in advance with the person who is going to perform the ceremony.

Most people consider it an honour to act as a witness to a marriage so it may be worth making sure that the honour is spread across both families or sets of friends.  Anyone who had hoped to be a witness may need a friendly telephone call in advance of the big day.

Whilst it is usual to give bridesmaids and groomsmen a small gift, witnesses do not usually receive more than a thank you (though a hug is always welcome!)

In the UK you can have more than two witnesses if you wish though you should make sure the registrar or celebrant is happy with the number you choose.  The signing always takes a while even with just two witnesses so having lots of them might make your other guests restless as they look forward to the reception.

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