Marriage is a formal event. An official must perform the ceremony, and at least two witnesses must be present. The official is called an "officiant" or a "celebrant." The couple can change some parts of the ceremony to make it more personal. But the couple and the officiant have to follow some formalities before and during the marriage ceremony.
To be legal, the ceremony has to be performed by a person authorized by law. A marriage can be civil or religious.
Quebec's justice minister allows only the following people to perform a civil marriage:
- clerks and deputy clerks of the Superior Court
- notaries who are authorized by law to prepare notarial acts
- mayors, members of municipal or borough councils and municipal officers for marriages performed in the place authorized by Quebec's justice minister (usually their municipality)
- any other person who obtains permission from the justice minister, such as a friend or family member of the future spouses
A person who wants permission to perform the ceremony must meet the following conditions:
- must be 18 years or older and not under tutorship, curatorship or other form of protective supervision
- has not been found guilty of a criminal offence in the last three years (or of a summary conviction offence in the last year)
- is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Quebec
- is able to read the articles of the Civil Code of Québec to the spouses in either French or English
- agrees to follow all formalities for performing the marriage
For more information, visit the website of Justice Québec (Quebec's department of justice).
The officiant must complete a form called a Request for the Designation of an Officiant of a Marriage or Civil Union, and send it to the Direction générale des services de justice (justice services section) of Justice Québec at least three months before the marriage. The officiant will then receive an information kit for the marriage ceremony.
Priests and ministers authorized by a religion to perform marriages can perform religious marriage ceremonies. The justice minister must also authorize them to perform marriages.
Formalities Before the Marriage
The future spouses must meet with the officiant before the marriage. The officiant can ask them for all the information needed to perform the marriage, for example, the future spouses’ names, addresses, age and civil status. The officiant might also ask the future spouses to provide official documents proving their civil status. The officiant must make sure that the future spouses meet all legal requirements, in particular with respect to their age and civil status. The officiant must also ensure that both future spouses have given free and informed consent to the marriage.
The officiant and future spouses prepare the "publication of the banns." This is a notice that must be published at least 20 days before the marriage. The notice is published at the nearest courthouse. It is also published where the marriage ceremony will take place, for example, at a church or other place of worship. The notice includes the name, address, place and year of birth of each future spouse, the date chosen for the ceremony and the name of the officiant. A witness must confirm this information. The witness doesn't have to be one of the witnesses to the marriage. The marriage must take place within three months following publication of the notice. If not, a new notice must be published.
The reason for the notice is to advise people of the upcoming marriage so they can inform the officiant if there is a reason the marriage should not take place. For example, the officiant can refuse to perform the marriage if the future spouses are too closely related according to the law or if one of them is still legally married to another person.
In some serious cases, the officiant can decide not to publish a notice, for example, if one of the future spouses is seriously ill and in danger of dying, or if one of the spouses is being transferred to another country for work but wants to get married before leaving.
Lastly, if the spouses are planning to sign a marriage contract in the presence of a notary, this is often the right time to think about which matrimonial regime to choose. If they do not choose a regime, they will automatically fall under the regime of partnership of acquests.
The Marriage Ceremony
The ceremony can take place anywhere. If the marriage is performed outside Quebec, there may be different rules to follow so that the marriage will be legal in the province or country where it takes place.
The ceremony can take place any day of the year between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., depending on when the officiant is available. For example, courthouses are not open every day or in the evening. For more information, visit the website of Justice Québec.
The ceremony can be religious or civil, but it must follow all legal requirements for the couple to be considered legally married.
During the Ceremony
The spouses can personalize the marriage ceremony according to their wishes and beliefs. For example, they can choose the music and readings, write their own vows, etc. The spouses are free to use their imaginations!
But some formalities must be followed. For example, the marriage must be performed by a person who is authorized to perform marriages. And it must be performed in the presence of at least two witnesses. The officiant must read certain articles from the Civil Code of Québec to the spouses that deal with their rights and obligations. They can be read in English or in French. If the spouses don't understand either language, they must hire an interpreter at their own expense. After reading the articles, the officiant asks each spouse to consent to the marriage. Following the traditional "I do's," the officiant declares that the spouses are married.
Lastly, the officiant signs a declaration of marriage. The spouses and two witnesses must sign it as well. The declaration provides written proof of the marriage. The officiant immediately sends the declaration to the Directeur de l'état civil, who then prepares the official act of marriage, which is the official document proving the marriage. If the spouses want a copy of the official document, they must apply to the Directeur de l'état civil.
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.