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Getting married in British Columbia

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You’ve decided to tie the knot. Congratulations! Learn the legal requirements and the steps involved to get married in British Columbia.

“My partner and I are getting married next month! Last week, I bought a marriage licence through a local notary public. I also hired a licensed marriage commissioner to do our ceremony. Within two days of the ceremony, she’ll send the paperwork to the government to get our marriage registered. After that, we’ll receive our marriage certificate. I can’t wait until we can put the 'Just Married' sign on the back of our car!”

– Zach, Williams Lake, BC

Young man sitting on grass, smiling

What you should know 

Before you can get married in British Columbia, you must meet these qualifications at the time of the marriage:

  • Each of you has to be unmarried. In other words, you can’t already be married to someone else. If you were married before, you need to be divorced before you can remarry.
  • You must not be too closely related to each other. That is, you can’t marry anyone in your immediate family or any near relative. This includes half-siblings, whether by birth or adoption.
  • 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 your parents’ or guardians’ agreement. If you’re under 16, you need a court order to get married.
  • Both of you have to understand the nature of the ceremony. You also have to understand the rights and responsibilities that marriage involves.
Tip

In BC, and in the rest of Canada, opposite- as well as same-sex couples can marry. The marriage laws that apply to same-sex couples are the same as those that apply to opposite-sex couples.

You don't have to be a resident of British Columbia to get married here. Blood tests aren’t required. But you do need a marriage licence to get married.

At some time in the three months before your wedding date, you’ll need to get a marriage licence. We explain below how to get one.

If you don’t get married within three months, the marriage licence expires, and you’ll need to apply for a new one.

Tip

If one of you was married before, you must show proof of your divorce before you can get a marriage licence. This is usually done by providing the original or certified true copy of your divorce order, certificate of divorce, or annulment.

You can have a religious or civil marriage ceremony, or both. The person performing the ceremony must be licensed to perform marriages under the provincial Marriage Act. For civil ceremonies, this person is known as a marriage commissioner. For religious ceremonies, they are known as a religious official.

Not all religious officials are licensed under the Marriage Act. If you want, you can first be married in a civil ceremony. Then you can have a religious ceremony. If you do that, it doesn’t matter if the religious official is licensed to perform marriages because you’ll already be legally married.

There’s no need for a public announcement of the marriage to be published before the marriage ceremony takes place.

In BC, the marriage commissioner or religious official who conducts the ceremony will help you register your marriage with the Vital Statistics Agency. This is the government office that registers all marriages that occur in BC. We explain how this works below.

The person who conducts your ceremony may give you a document confirming your marriage. This can be used to prove you’re married before your marriage is registered and you receive your government-issued marriage certificate.

If someone believes there’s a reason why two people should not marry, they can try to stop the proceedings. This is done by filing a document called a caveat with a marriage licence issuer. In this case, a marriage licence will not be issued until:

  • the marriage licence issuer has looked into the matter and is satisfied the caveat shouldn’t stop a licence from being issued, or
  • the caveat is withdrawn by the person who filed it.

If a caveat has been filed, you should speak to a lawyer.

Steps to getting married

To get a marriage licence, at least one of you has to go in person to a marriage licence issuer. You can go to any Service BC office. Many insurance agents and notaries public also issue marriage licences. The BC government website has a search form to help you find the marriage licence issuer closest to you. Or you can contact the Vital Statistics Agency.

You both need to show “primary” government-issued photo ID, such as a birth certificate or a citizenship card. The licence costs $100.

The person performing the marriage ceremony must be licensed to perform marriages under the provincial Marriage Act. See “What you should know,” above, for details.

The marriage ceremony must take place in the presence of at least two witnesses. (The marriage commissioner or religious official don’t count as witnesses.)

After the marriage ceremony, the couple, two witnesses, and the official marrying them must sign the marriage licence, and a registration of marriage form.

Within 48 hours of the ceremony, the registration of marriage form must be sent to the Vital Statistics Agency for registration. The person who conducts your ceremony will normally take care of this for you. If you’re not sure, ask them if they will.

The Vital Statistics Agency will send you a marriage certificate.

Who can help

The Vital Statistics Agency is the government office that registers all marriages that occur in BC.

The wikibook JP Boyd on Family Law, hosted by Courthouse Libraries BC, has information about how to get married in BC.

Options for legal help include legal aid, pro bono services, legal clinics, and advocates. See our information on free and low-cost legal help.

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed in February 2020
  • Time to read: 5 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Amber van Drielen, One World Law Group

Amber van Drielen, One World Law Group

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This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.

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