When I get married, do I have to take my husband's last name?
No. Changing a last name upon marriage is a custom only and it has never been a legal requirement. When you get married, there are several options available to you. You may keep your own last name, you may take your husband's name, or you may use a combination of your last names (such as Smith-Jones or Jones-Smith).
It is also possible to use your husband's last name for social purposes while continuing to use your own last name for legal purposes, such as your passport, bank accounts, driver's licence and so on. The important thing is that you must not use both names in an attempt to defraud someone.
If you do decide to use your husband's last name, it is not necessary to inform the Department of Vital Statistics. However, you will have to arrange to have all your personal documents changed to reflect your new name. You should contact your bank to arrange to change your name on your accounts, credit cards and banking cards, and the federal government to deal with documents such as your social insurance number and passport. Your driver's licence should also be changed. Do not forget such important documents as insurance policies and your health care number. Note also that marriage automatically invalidates a will, unless the will specifically mentions that it has been made with an upcoming marriage in mind. You should make a new will immediately after marriage.
Your husband has the same options available to him. He may keep his name, take your name or use a combination of both.
We would like to write our own marriage vows. Are there some things that we must include?
The things that must be included according to the Marriage Act (Alberta) are quite simple. The marriage must be performed by a member of the clergy registered under the Act or a marriage commissioner appointed under the Act. Registries of these persons are maintained. The Marriage Act also states that there must be two adult, credible witnesses.
There are only two requirements in the Act for words that must be used in the ceremony when it is performed by a marriage commissioner. Each of you must say: "I do solemnly declare that I do not know of any lawful impediment why I (state name) may not be joined in matrimony to (state name)", and each of you must say to the other: "I call upon those persons present to witness that I do take thee, to be my lawful wedded wife (husband)." Apart from these words, any words or vows that you choose to make may be included.
If you are having a church wedding, you should consult with your minister to make sure that your choices are acceptable. Both of you must understand the language used in the ceremony, or else an interpreter must be present to interpret and explain clearly to both the meaning of the ceremony.
What laws must we follow to get married?
In Canada, both the federal government and the provinces have some power over marriage. The federal government has two federal acts dealing with marriage, specifically the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act and the Marriage for Civil Purposes Act. Both acts are quite short.
The Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act lists persons, such as brothers and sisters, who may not marry because they are too closely related by blood or adoption. The Marriage for Civil Purposes Act recognizes marriage between persons of the same sex in that it defines marriage as the union of two people to the exclusion of all others. The act goes on to protect the rights of religious officials to decline to perform a marriage ceremony that is not in accordance with their religious beliefs. In addition, the act states specifically that same-sex spouses cannot be deprived of any benefit or subjected to any obligation or punishment by law solely because they have chosen to exercise their freedom to marry.
Except for these federal laws, the provinces make the laws concerning marriage. In Alberta, this law is called the Marriage Act. This Act deals with a number of things necessary for legal marriages:
- capacity to marry,
- the rules that must be followed,
- the people who may perform marriage, and
- the penalties for failure to follow the law.
What does "capacity to marry" mean?
To have the capacity to marry, you must have the physical, mental, and legal ability to marry. Physically, you must be able to consummate the marriage. Mentally, you must understand the nature of the ceremony. Legally, you must be 18 years or older and not already married. There are exceptions to the legal age limit. You may marry with your parents' consent if you are under 18 and over 16. Under some circumstances, parental consent may not be necessary if a judge says so. You may marry under the age of 16 if you get a letter from a medical doctor saying that you are the mother of a living child or you are pregnant.
There are some particular rules that apply to you if you have a mental handicap. One section of the Marriage Act (Alberta) says that no one shall issue a marriage licence or perform a marriage ceremony if he or she has reason to believe that you are the subject of a court order under the Incapacitated Persons Act, a guardianship or trustee order or a certificate of incapacity under the Dependent Adults Act. In that case, your guardian or trustee must be given 14 days notice of your application for a marriage licence, or a medical doctor must state in writing that you can understand what marriage is and the duties and responsibilities involved. Also, a marriage licence may not be issued or a marriage ceremony held if either spouse-to-be is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Must we get a licence to marry?
Yes, you must get a marriage licence. You may easily get your licence at any of the numerous registry offices that have sprung up around the province since the government privatized these services. Look in the yellow pages under Registries for an office near you, or check the external resources for a list of registry agents in Alberta.
Both you and your spouse-to-be must fill out some forms with personal information and swear that the information given is true. You must also provide identification that proves your age. If you have been married before, you must provide proof of a valid divorce. No medical information or blood tests are required, except under certain rare circumstances. The cost for a marriage licence is currently $40, and it is valid for three months from the date it is issued.
What happens if we break the laws about getting married?
There are a number of penalties in the Marriage Act (Alberta) if you fail to obey the law. However, there is also a way to remedy the situation so that your marriage itself is not invalid. If you make a false statement on your sworn application for a marriage licence, you may be fined up to $500, and if you do not pay, you might be sent to jail up to 30 days.
If a person issues a marriage licence or performs a marriage ceremony contrary to the Act, he or she may face the same penalties. However, it is important to know that there is a section that says that your marriage will not be invalid just because the licensing person or the person who performed the ceremony didn't follow the Act, and a judge may order that the marriage is lawful. This means that if the registry where you obtain your licence makes some sort of mistake in the preparation of your application, your marriage won't be invalid. Also, if you find out after the ceremony that your minister or marriage commissioner didn't have the power to marry you, your marriage will still be valid, although you may have to apply for a judge's order that says so.
If you or your spouse is under age, and you were married without having the necessary consents from parents, your marriage will still be valid if you had sex before marriage, if you have had sex since the ceremony, or if you are living together as husband and wife.
I would really like my best friend to marry my fiancé and I. Is this possible?
It would only be possible if your friend qualifies to be a temporary marriage commissioner. As of July 1, 2004, only judges, senators, Alberta MPs and Alberta MLAs are able to act as temporary marriage commissioners in Alberta.
However, in special cases where a permanent commissioner is not available, Alberta Government Services can allow someone who is not a judge, senator or elected official to act as a temporary marriage commissioner.
Additional information and application forms are available from Alberta Government Services under Vital Statistics.
My fiancé and I want to get married in a foreign country. Can we do this?
Yes, as long as you meet all the requirements of the authority responsible for marriage in the country where you want to get married.
You should establish what those requirements are before you leave Canada. Often your travel agent or the hotel where you will be staying can provide this information. You can also perform a search on the Internet or contact the country's consulate office.
Note: It is important to ensure that you receive a marriage certificate from the country where your marriage takes place as proof of your marital status.
Additional information regarding marriage in a foreign country is available on the Canadian Consular Affairs website.
My spouse and I live in Alberta but were married in a foreign country. Do we have to register our marriage in Alberta?
No. Only marriages that took place in Alberta are registered by Alberta Vital Statistics.
Your marriage will be registered in the country where it took place as long as you met all the local requirements. Your marriage certificate, issued by the country's authority responsible for marriage, is proof of your marital status.
I married someone who is a foreign citizen. Can my spouse automatically enter Canada?
No. There are certain procedures that must be followed before a non-Canadian citizen can reside in Canada. For more information, see the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website.
For more information, see these other Canadian Legal FAQs.
- Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act
- Marriage for Civil Purposes Act
- List of Alberta Registry Agents
- Alberta Government Services
- Canadian Consular Affairs - Marriage in a Foreign Country
- Citizenship and Immigration - Immigrant Sponsorship
This page was last updated in October, 2006.