Surprise Weddings

If you value being surrounded by your family and friends on your wedding day but want to avoid wedding planning stress a surprise wedding could be a no-hassle, family-oriented option.

 In Australia the legal requirements of informed consent and a clear month's notice mean that both of the marrying couple have to be in on the secret, together with the marriage celebrant. This means that one of the marrying parties (eg the groom) cannot arrange the wedding as a surprise for the other (eg the bride), or vice versa. Any wedding that takes place under such circumstances is an offence that carries a term of six months in prison and loss of registration for the celebrant and no celebrant in Australia will agree to be party to such an arrangement.

A common misconception is that if you signed the Notice of Intended Marriage then you agreed to the marriage, so the actual date and place where the marriage takes place can be a surprise. NOT TRUE!  The Notice of Intended Marriage is not a contract, so it does not obligate either party to actually marry.

There is a very good reason for it not being legal for the one party to make the arrangements and spring the surprise on the other one. Both parties must be aware of every particular and either party can change their mind about marrying and pull out at any time until both have said the legal vows because there has to be real consent from both parties at every stage of the process including  leading up to the wedding and during the ceremony.

Being put in a situation where it is possible that the person being surprised feels under duress to proceed immediately, casts doubt on the validity of the marriage. The celebrant has to be sure at every stage that the consent of both parties is real and freely given, and that there is no duress, and that includes during the ceremony.

However, it is perfectly legal to keep the fact that you are getting married from everyone else, including your two official witnesses, until the ceremony starts.

You may want to have a surprise wedding if
  • you like the idea of having a wedding incorporating some of the traditional customs without pre-wedding pressures and irritations
  • you want to have your family and friends share the day with you
  • you want everyone, including yourselves, to be relaxed
  • you want to be totally in control of your wedding
  • you want to save money

While the level of planning and the cost can vary depending on the style of your wedding, a surprise wedding can be very simple to plan, and extraordinarily versatile.

The biggest issue is likely to be how to ensure significant people will attend, and how to keep your plans a secret. As surprise weddings become more common, inviting everyone to an engagement party can raise suspicions. I've noticed an increasing number of guests are turning up with both an engagement card and a wedding card with their gift.

Parties on special days (Halloween, Christmas, New Year's Eve), family get-togethers, significant birthdays, house warmings, even a "TV-warming" party for a new plasma TV and an invite to watch State of Origin (with your wedding planned for half-time) are possibilities.

You can tell people that it is a wedding when they arrive. One couple I married presented their guests with a souvenir stubby holder announcing their New Year's Eve wedding as they came through the front door. Or you can spring the surprise when you are ready to start the ceremony. You don't even need to use words. The first bars of the Wedding March can say it all.

more information about Getting Married
Your Wedding Ceremony
more information about Wedding Ceremony Packages
printable summary of  Wedding Ceremony Packages
What I legally cannot do
more information about the Codes of Practice and Ethics I abide by