You’ve decided to tie the knot. Congratulations! Learn the legal requirements to marry in British Columbia, as well as the steps involved (hint: you need a licence to get married).
Understand your legal rights
Before you can get married in British Columbia, you must meet these qualifications:
- Each of you has to be unmarried; in other words, you can’t be in a marriage with someone else.
- You must not be too closely related to each other: you cannot marry anyone in your immediate family or any near relation.
- Each of you has to be 19 years of age or older. If you’re under 19, you may still get married, but you need the agreement of both your parents or of your guardians. If you’re under 16, you need a court order to get married.
In BC, and in the rest of Canada, opposite- as well as same-sex couples can marry. The rules that apply to same-sex couples are exactly the same as the rules that apply to opposite-sex couples.
You need a marriage licence to get married. At some time in the three months before your wedding date, you will need to buy a marriage licence.
To get a marriage licence, at least one of you has to go in person to a marriage licence issuer. There’s a fee of $100 for the licence. You need to show primary identification for both of you. Examples of primary identification are a birth certificate or citizenship card.
If one or both of you was previously married, you must provide proof of the divorce before you can get the marriage licence. This is usually done by providing a copy of your divorce order or certificate of divorce.
Marriage licence issuers include Service BC locations, many insurance agents, and many notaries public. The BC government website has a search form to lookup the location of the marriage licence issuer closest to you. Or you can contact the Vital Statistics Agency, the government office that registers all marriages that occur in BC. They can be reached toll-free at 1-888-876-1633.
The marriage licence expires if you don’t get married within three months.
In either case, the person performing the ceremony must be licensed under the provincial Marriage Act to perform marriages. Not all religious officials are licensed under the Act. For civil ceremonies, this person is known as a marriage commissioner.
The marriage ceremony must be held in the presence of at least two witnesses, in addition to the marriage commissioner or religious official.
If you wish, you can be married in a civil ceremony and then have a religious ceremony afterwards as well. If you have your religious ceremony second, it doesn’t matter whether the religious official is licensed to perform marriages, since you will have been legally married at the civil ceremony.
It is not necessary that “banns of marriage” or some other public announcement of the marriage be published before the marriage ceremony takes place.
The marriage commissioner or religious official who conducts the ceremony will help you register your marriage. At any wedding in BC, the couple, two witnesses and the official marrying them must sign the marriage licence and a registration of marriage form after the ceremony has been performed.
The marriage registration form must be sent, within 48 hours of the ceremony, to the Vital Statistics Agency for registration. The person who conducts your ceremony will normally take care of this for you.
The Vital Statistics Agency will send you a certificate of marriage.
The person who conducts your ceremony may provide you with a document confirming your marriage. This can be used to prove you are married before your marriage is registered with the Vital Statistics Agency and you receive your government-issued marriage certificate.
Any person who believes there is some reason why two people should not marry can file a caveat with the Vital Statistics Agency. If this happens, a marriage licence will not be issued until the agency is satisfied the issuing of the licence shouldn’t be prevented or the caveat is withdrawn by the person who filed it. If a caveat has been filed, you should speak to a lawyer.
This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
Reviewed in August 2017
Time to read: 4 minutes
Reviewed for legal accuracy by
Thomas E. Wallwork, Thomas E. Wallwork Law Corporation