In a word, “No.”
The Marriage Act (1961), as amended to date, requires that couples complete a “Notice of Intended Marriage” form at least 30 days, but no more than 18 months prior to the marriage. This form requires the completion of basic identity information, including name, birth date and marital status. The Notice of Intended Marriage must be given to an authorised celebrant to send to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages after the wedding.
So yes, people may marry others they barely know, but they must, at the very least, know the person’s identity, age and marital status.
The waiting period of 30 days is designed to provide an opportunity for people to contemplate whether they really want to marry the other person.
There is some understandable cultural curiosity about arranged marriages, which are still the norm in certain parts of the world. But much of the heated controversy generated by Channel 9’s new reality show, Married at First Sight, is likely generated by differing views on marriage.
Before filming, the participants in the televised weddings fill out a Notice of Intended Marriage. The weddings are not legally binding, but parties may choose to marry when the 30-day period following the execution of the notice has elapsed.
The programme, Married at First Sight raises a host of interesting questions:
- Is it legal to marry a stranger?
- Are arranged marriages permitted in Australia?
- How well and for how long a couple must know each other before marriage?
- Can they get a quick divorce if the relationship doesn’t work out?
The blogosphere raises a few more sticky issues about presumptions of permanence, sexual exclusivity and why gay people can’t get married in Australia. Many of these difficult questions are still more the province of policy, religion and culture than law.
Are arranged marriages legal?
As long as these marriages met the legal requirements for a valid marriage in Australia (for example both parties consent to the marriage and are of the legal age to marry) and the marriage is preceded by the legally required disclosure and waiting period, then yes. Marriages arranged by third parties are perfectly legal. Still, arranged unions are not customary in most of the western world.
A person who forces a couple to marry could be criminally charged and face a term of imprisonment. A celebrant who officiates at a marriage where the requirements of the law have not been met may also be subject to penalties.
The divorce rate for couples in an arranged marriage is very low but, as wise people have noted, that is not necessarily an indicator of domestic bliss.
For example, when the family views divorce as something that would bring shame to the family, divorce may simply not be an option for some married couples.
If it doesn’t work out, can couples get a quick divorce?
Also, in a word, “No.”
Therein lies the principal problem with getting “married at first sight.” With divorce law in Australia, courts require a marriage to have irretrievably broken down and this must be evidenced by at least a 12 month period of separation, before granting a divorce.
If a couple has been married for less than two years, or if there are children of the marriage, courts generally also require the parties to participate in marriage counseling before granting a divorce.
Although The Marriage Act defines marriage as a state intended to be permanent, nearly half of all marriages in Australia end in divorce. The law has nothing to say about whether couples need even to live together or behave in sexually exclusive ways when married.
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