Thousands of marriages in Australia conducted by celebrants may be invalid because the wrong words have been used in the ceremony. In Australia, celebrants are people who conduct formal ceremonies in the community, particularly weddings.
Celebrants must recite precise words from the Marriage Act for a wedding to be valid beyond dispute. But almost 80 per cent of the ceremonies the federal attorney-general's department examined last year did not comply with requirements, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Saturday.
Of the 336 sample ceremonies submitted by celebrants as part of their five-yearly review, 261 did not comply with sections 45 and/or 46 of the act, a spokesman for the department said.
Celebrants say the problem is a symptom of the huge numbers entering the field since deregulation in 2003, and of "cowboy" trainers. Some also claim an overly legalistic approach is being imposed on celebrants.
"When I check out ceremonies for new celebrants, I do find large numbers are not 100 per cent within the law," said Keith Lammond, president of the Australian Marriage Celebrants, a professional association.
"The most common thing they get wrong is the vow."
A training DVD produced by the department in 2008 says: "The vows used in a marriage ceremony are legally crucial. Not following the requirements of section 45 in the vows can result in a void or invalid marriage. There are no exceptions to this."
It would be up to a family court to declare a marriage invalid and this could affect wills, residence visas and bank loans.
But Tony Gelme, president of the Coalition of Celebrant Associations, said it would be unlikely an incorrect wedding vow would constitute sufficient grounds to nullify a marriage.