Thankfully celebrant troubles are very rare. The vast majority of celebrants, myself included, will be able to confirm that they have never had to deal with a complaint or a breakdown in a working relationship with a couple. But if you are really unfortunate and run into problems with your celebrant, it can be more distressing than dealing with woes from your everyday service providers. Why? – Simple because this particular provider is responsible for one of the most special and emotionally significant days in your life. Unfortunately, it is also more likely that if a serious problem does manifest – it will happen close to your ceremony date, not months before.
But let’s deal with such a scenario in two parts – How to prevent possible problems and how to handle them if they occur, including the ultimate course of action – making a complaint about a celebrant.
How To Prevent A Problem With Your Celebrant
As always, prevention is better than cure! There are two obvious and big mitigating factors to pay particular attention to:
- How you choose your celebrant and
- The agreement you enter into with them
How To Choose A Celebrant
There are a number of important considerations that should go into choosing your celebrant. If you simply shop around for the cheapest price you’re taking a greater chance. A service is being provided where they are being paid for both their time and their experience. A celebrant with greater experience and who invests more of their time and attention on individual ceremonies will rightfully charge more for their services. So in that sense, it’s a bit like insurance – you might begrudge paying the premium as you rarely make a claim, but you always have the peace of mind.
Making A Short List
If you are talking to a celebrant who’s been recommended to you by someone you know and trust that goes a very long way. But more often, finding a celebrant starts with “Ok Google” or “Hey Siri.” The number of choices Google presents you with at this point is vast. You’ll start browsing a few sites and coming up with a short list. Here you really need to be looking for testimonials and reviews. You should expect to see lots of gushing testimonials on their site but also look for reviews from other sources that can’t be cherry-picked for their own marketing. There are a number of possible sources out there, but usually, you’ll be able to find plenty of reviews on their Google business listing and Facebook page. If there are any mixed or negative reviews, it’s important to see what the specific negatives were and it’s just as important to see if and how the celebrant responded to that feedback online. A negative review might actually still reassure you if you see that the celebrant took their feedback seriously and responded to it professionally.
Next, you need to get a sense for whether the celebrant is a ‘good fit’ for you. This is best done through meeting them or at least speaking to them. When you talk to your celebrant, do you hit it off with them? Do you relate to each other and establish rapport easily? Does your celebrant quickly get on your wavelength when discussing plans for your ceremony? Do they explain everything clearly to you? Do they ‘get’ what’s important to you? Like any relationship, this is a very individual thing.
So far so good, so they proceed to provide you with a quote. This should be more detailed than a one-liner saying it’s ‘for performing a Wedding Ceremony’. It should clearly show exactly what’s included in their fee, what expenses will be included or excluded, as well as any optional extras and importantly, what the payment schedule is.
The Customer Service Agreement / Contract
You should expect to see this at the time of making a booking. If they don’t provide you with one, that’s a big red flag. It’s important you don’t treat this like an iTunes user agreement and just blindly click ‘accept’, but that you take the time to go through this agreement properly. This agreement should clearly set out what you can expect from the celebrant AND what the celebrant expects from you, as well as any timeframes applicable to those expectations. What is their refund policy? It may also include details of any unforeseen costs not covered in the quote, eg. if the start of your ceremony is significantly delayed.
Keeping In Touch
Also around the time of completing your booking, it should be clarified what communication is required between then and your wedding day. This, along with the customer service agreement, should ensure that you are not sat at home as the day approaches wondering “Shouldn’t we have heard from our celebrant?”
If all these boxes are ticked, congratulations you’ve mitigated almost all chance of the wheels coming off with your celebrant.
Dealing with a breakdown in your relationship with the Celebrant
But suppose the above boxes weren’t ticked or a problem has arisen regardless?
The first question is – can you work through it and resolve the issue with the celebrant? This is really the eventuality your written agreement was made for. Does it detail specific expectations that have not been met either on the celebrant’s part or your own? If so, then the facts are much easier to agree and the agreement should, if still possible, be upheld to resolve the issue. If you are without any written agreement in this situation, it will prove much harder to resolve the issue between the three of you. Another document that is equally important in this regard is the Attorney General’s Code of Practice for celebrants. This document details levels of service all registered celebrants are bound to.
The decision you will be faced with is whether it is possible to, or are you prepared to, proceed with the existing celebrant or not? In the event that you are not, you are faced with sourcing an alternate celebrant, probably at short notice, which could mean the available options have narrowed somewhat.
When contacting a new celebrant, make sure you explain your situation to them and they can advise you. A couple of things will certainly need to happen in this situation. The new celebrant will need to sight all your same original documentation, including passports, any divorce certificates, etc, that you may have already shown the previous celebrant. If the wedding is less than 1 month away at the time of the transition, the new celebrant will need the existing ‘Notice of Intent To Marry (NOIM)’ document from the previous celebrant. If more time is available, a new NOIM document can be filled out with your new celebrant.
Making A Complaint About A Celebrant
Ultimately, if the matter cannot be resolved to your satisfaction directly with your celebrant or you believe your complaint requires further consideration, there is a procedure set out in the Marriage Regulations to enable complaints concerning the performance of marriage celebrants to be made to the Registrar. The process is initiated by filling in a complaints form. Ordinarily, this must be submitted within 3 months of the matter complained about. You may seek an extension of time from the Registrar to make a complaint and they may grant one if they consider it justified.
If you require assistance in preparing the complaint, the Marriage Celebrants Section at the Attorney General’s Department can provide this.
This is the sequence in which it all happens:
- Following submission, a preliminary assessment of your complaint will be made and sent to both you and the celebrant.
- Both you and the celebrant will be given the opportunity to comment on the preliminary assessment. Those comments may include any additional information, photographs or signed witness statements.
- Submitted comments are then taken into consideration and you and the celebrant will then be advised of the Registrar’s final determination.
If the Registrar decides the complaint is well founded, there are a number of steps they may take, including several disciplinary measures against the celebrant. However, the Registrar does not have the power to order the celebrant to repay any money to you, although they can make a recommendation to that effect. If you are seeking a refund, you should visit the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) website, where you can use an online tool to identify the state or territory consumer affairs body that may be able to assist you with your consumer complaint.
Remember, having said all that, problems are very rare because most of the celebrants out there are simply awesome. So happy wedding planning … and don’t lose any sleep over all this.
Author: Meggan Brummer
Meggan is a full-time, authorised Marriage Celebrant based in Sydney, Australia.
Her work as a celebrant is supported by her background in writing, theatre, and singing.