Every week I see this question coming up in the wedding groups. The American trend of having a friend perform your ceremony seems to have seeped into the feeds of our Canadian couples and it’s causing a lot of drama!
If your friend is not a licenced Officiant, it is illegal for them to pretend to be, and it is illegal for them to say certain things while pretending to be an Officiant.
I always see the person asking the question being told to do what they want and have an Officiant just sign the papers. This response is based on ignorance of the law, and shady shady shady officiants who will do anything for a few dollars. They offer “licence signing only” and “paperwork only” services for couples who don’t want an Officiant at their wedding. This practice is highly illegal and very dangerous. These officiants are being turned in constantly and risk losing their licence (if they actually have one) and risk the validity of your marriage. Do you know it costs you more to fix this kind of thing than it does to just hire a professional Officiant in the first place? Someone pretending to be an Officiant is illegal in Canada and you could all be fined and/or charged with committing fraud! As licenced, registered Officiants, we are not allowed to just simply sign your paperwork without performing the legal minimum ceremony.
Now, of course if your friend is someone like me, a licenced, registered Officiant they can perform your marriage ceremony. I am often asked to do that for my friends and most of the time their ceremony is my wedding gift to them as I will also be staying for cocktails, dinner, and a fun night of champagne, cake, and dancing.
In Ontario your ceremony must be performed by a licensed officiant (who is a member of a recognized clergy), a municipal clerk, a justice of the peace, or a judge. No, the Church of the Universe is not recognized in Canada and no you can’t just go and get ordained online in 5 minutes.
When I arrive at your wedding I am there representing the laws of the Province of Ontario. and it is my responsibility to ensure that you are both consenting to the legal marriage (by answering “I do” when asked, and exchanging vows) and pronouncing you married. These three things validate your consent to legally marry the other person that day, your intentions for your marriage, and the declaration that you are legally married. Without a licenced Officiant, it isn’t a legal marriage.
The pronouncement of marriage (“I now pronounce you married”) cannot be done by anybody other than a licensed Officiant. It is a federal crime punishable by two years jail time (Criminal Code of Canada section 294). Let that sink in. Imagine if someone’s plus one knows the law at your fake ceremony and turns you in? Your licence could be flagged and, fines issued, perhaps a court date or two, and some time in the clink. Is it worth it to have your friend doing something they shouldn’t be doin in the first place?
If you really want your friend to pronounce you married, you must have your licensed Officiant pronounce you married before your friend does. There are a few ways to do this:
I have met with couples earlier in the day or sometime the night before their ceremony and performed a legal marriage ceremony. It takes 5 minutes and the license is signed and witnessed. At that point the couple are legally married and what ever takes place at their wedding can go on without me there.
I also welcome friends and family to do readings during the ceremony so you can still have your friends take part. Though to be honest I have yet to see more than a small handful of people who can get up in front of a crowd to do a reading and not be absolutely terrified.
One time a seemingly confident women got part way through her reading and I had to take over as the weight of what she was doing sunk in. At another wedding I had to coach a crying family member through regaining their composure enough to keep reading before they totally broke down from the emotion and terror of speaking in front of so many people during such an important time. Reading for your loved one’s marriage ceremony in front of hundreds of people is not for the feint of heart. It takes some serious cha-chas to do public speaking and even the most gregarious and self-assured people crack in that setting. I don’t.
The papers can not be taken to an officiant later and signed, nor can they be signed by an officiant if the three legal conditions haven’t been performed, and no I wont sit in the back to listen to your friend break the law in front of me and all of your witnesses then sign the documents for you. If an officiant tells you they can sign the papers only or sign them after your wedding, they are either knowingly, or unknowingly breaking the law. Why would you want to hire an officiant who would break the law, or be so ignorant of the law they don’t know what they are doing is illegal? All licenced officiants in Ontario can be found on the Ontario Government list found here. You can find me listed under my legal name, Avril Ging.
#ProTip – Hiring a professional Officiant costs less than going to City/Town Hall! AND you can get a beautiful custom ceremony created just for you! I recently had a bride tell me they started off planning to get married at Town Hall but wasn’t thrilled with the person who does the ceremonies and was really sad they wouldn’t be able to include any of the elements they wanted. Town Hall offers one script to get you legally married. The bare bones.
Also, be aware that most City/Town Halls will not allow you to bring in your own Officiant – so when you tell me that you are just going to Town Hall, you can’t take me with you.
Still want to invite a friend or family member to take part in your wedding and ceremony? Check out my blog post full of dozens of ideas to include your favourite people!
If you are still not convinced, let’s break down the pros and cons of having a friend officiate your marriage ceremony:
– Might be more meaningful because your friend knows you.
– Might be free (you get what you pay for)
– Your friend might not be licenced to perform a legal marriage ceremony
– Your friend might not know how to write a well paced ceremony, in order, that flows
– Your friend might not even think of the little things like when to have people stand, how to have you hold hands for the best photos etc
– Your friend might have little to no experience or idea how to collaborate with couples to write a meaningful ceremony
– Your friend might forget they have an important job to do and get so drunk the night before, or when they arrive at your wedding that they aren’t capable of performing your ceremony.
– Your friend might not have any experience running a wedding rehearsal to ensure your ceremony is smooth and well choreographed
– Your friend might have never performed a marriage ceremony before and might choke in the middle of it.
– Your friend might have no idea where to find poems, readings, and ideas for your ceremony that will be well matched to you
– Your friend might not have any experience collaborating with wedding vendors to make sure your ceremony is flawless, and you get the best photos and sound possible
– Your friend might not have any experience with public speaking and might not be the grounding, calming anchor for you. If they are nervous, they wont be calming your nerves
– Your friend might not know how to fill in the marriage documents and if they aren’t licenced and registered, they wont have an Officiant number to put on your marriage licence. Your licence will be flagged immediately at the Office of the Registrar General
– My experience with “Friendors” is that they usually flake. I have lost count of the number of times a panicked bride has contacted me begging me to come because their friend who told them they could do their ceremony is suddenly not coming to the wedding.
There are lots of ways to include your friends in very meaningful ways! Check out this blog post I wrote FULL of ideas for every friend and relative you have!
Save yourself the drama and heartache by hiring a professional who knows what they are doing, will be on time, dress appropriately, write the perfect ceremony that reflects who you are as a couple…and let your guests be guests.
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