The law about getting married in Australia
This page is mostly for people who are under 18 and thinking about getting married, or people who are considering getting married to someone under 18.
It also discusses forced marriage, pregnancy, same-sex partnerships and marrying relatives.
On this page, we use the word partner to mean someone of the opposite sex to you. It does not include partners who are the same sex as you.
If you and your partner are both over 18, you can get married without having to get anybody’s permission if you both freely agree to the marriage.
If you and your partner are both under 18, you cannot get married.
If you are 16 or 17 and want to get married to someone who is over 18, this is allowed in only very limited circumstances.
You will need:
- permission from a judge or magistrate;
- permission from your parents or guardians;
- to show that you freely agree to the marriage.
The law does not allow ‘forced marriages’. Please look at our page on forced marriage if you may be or have been forced to marry against your wishes.
Getting the permission of a judge or magistrate
If you want to get married and you are under 18, you will need to apply to a judge or a magistrate for permission. You should get legal advice about how to do this. The judge or magistrate will look at your situation and decide whether to allow you to get married.
Things the judge or magistrate might consider include:
- your maturity
- the length of your relationship with your partner
- your financial situation
- how independent you are as a couple
- why you want to get married; and
- what your and your partners’ families think of you getting married
Just because you or your partner is pregnant does not mean that you will automatically get permission to get married. If you are pregnant, you can check out our page on pregnancy.
The judge or magistrate will only give permission for you to get married in exceptional and unusual circumstances if you are under 18. It might be easier to wait until you turn 18 to get married.
If the judge or magistrate does give you permission to get married, you must marry within three months of getting this permission.
Getting the permission of your parents or guardians
To have your marriage made official, you will need the permission of your parents/guardians. This permission will need to be in writing. This must be written permission and must also be witnessed and dated within the three months before your wedding day. You need to give this permission to the person marrying you (the religious leader or civil marriage celebrant).
What if you can’t ask your parents or guardians?
You might not be able to get your parents’ or guardians’ permission for practical reasons, including if they have died or you don’t know how to contact them.
If this is the case, you can prepare a legal document showing the circumstances which make it impossible or impractical to get their permission.
If the judge or magistrate accepts that:
a) you cannot get their permission; and
b) there is no reason to believe that they would have refused to give their permission
the judge or magistrate may decide that their permission is not needed.
If one or both of your parents or guardians lives overseas, you will still need to ask their permission if you are able to contact them.
What if your parents/guardians refuse to give their permission?
If your parents/guardians refuse to give you permission to get married, you can apply to a judge or magistrate to give you permission instead.
If the judge or magistrate:
a) thinks that your parents/guardians are being unreasonable in refusing to give you permission; and
b) you have seen an accredited family counsellor about getting married
the judge or magistrate may give you permission instead of your parents’ or guardians’.
Same sex couples cannot get married because the current law in Australia defines marriage as between a man and a woman. If you are in a same sex relationship, you can have a commitment ceremony and in some states you may be able to register your relationship as a domestic partnership.
You can find out more information from state and territory registries of births, deaths and marriages.
If you or your partner has been married in the past, you cannot get married until you have obtained a divorce from the Family Court or the Federal Magistrates Court. To marry someone while you are already married is illegal. This crime is called bigamy and it is punishable by up to five years imprisonment.
You cannot marry your brother or sister, or one of your parents, grandparents, or your own child or grandchild.
In some countries it is illegal to marry your first cousin, but not Australia. Some communities in Australia have a much higher rate of first cousins marrying than others, believing there are cultural, extended family, social, religious and financial benefits in the practice.
But, be aware that children born to first cousin parents may have a three to four in a hundred greater chance of being born with a serious genetic abnormality than children born to non-relatives, and that early death or major illness may be four to five per cent higher.
Also be aware that the law does not allow others to pressure you into marrying any relative against your wishes. Please read our page on forced marriage if you may be or have been forced to marry a relative.
If you are under 25 and have a question about marriage, please send us a Lawmail.
Page last updated 28 June 2015
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