Determining my fee
Apart from a legal requirement to perform each marriage ceremony in accordance with the Marriage Act 1961, an authorised marriage celebrant has the flexibility to conduct their individual business in their own way.
This, like pretty much every other business, means that they set their own pricing as well as terms and conditions. In my case, everything is transparent and, as well as the key details being included in my wedding packages, they are discussed in detail with each couple when we meet before the design stage even begins.
If an average wedding ceremony takes about 20 minutes, how then are a celebrant’s fees justified? The answer to this question differs, in part, from celebrant to celebrant …
(i) some will provide a service which is in accordance with the ideology of their particular religion, often with little room to move with regard to content or location;
(ii) some will offer, perhaps, 2 or 3 generic ceremonies where they simply change the names (!) or offer a choice of generic content much like choosing #5 or #12 from a Chinese menu;
(iii) some have decided that what could be termed a “race to the bottom” is the best way to secure clients and so undercut just to get the job. As this is not sustainable, unless they have another source of income, they may end up having to cut corners;
(iv) others (like me), who are not doing this as a bit of a hobby, will take the time to write a bespoke ceremony for each and every couple which reflects the important people and things in their lives.
When determining my celebrant’s fee and everything it includes, I also took into account the following:
I have attained Certificate IV in Celebrancy through https://www.australiancelebrations.com.au/ which encompasses the 10 nationally recognised units for performing marriages and life celebrations plus the required 3 extra units of choice. In my case, I chose the 3 nationally recognised units for planning and conducting funeral ceremonies.
While all celebrants registered with the Attorney-General’s Dept. are able to conduct marriages in Australia, many have not attained Certificate IV in Celebrancy. This, I believe, is an important point of difference in terms of qualifications, as well as the knowledge and service I can provide. Think of it this way … if you’d like someone to do something really important for you, wouldn’t you prefer to choose someone with whom you connect well from a shortlist of those with the highest qualifications and experience? Your wedding day is too important to leave to chance.
I offer 3 unique wedding packages:
The 1st is my “Short & Sweet” wedding package. This is a very short “legals only” ceremony designed for a couple plus 2 to a maximum of 10 other people. It only takes about 5 minutes. If you’d like to invite more than 10 other people, there will be an additional $50 fee to cover the cost of bringing my PA so that your guests can hear the ceremony clearly. You will have the option of using this for your ceremony music as well.
The 2nd is my “Elopement” wedding package which is a very intimate ceremony, including a personal introduction, designed for a couple and the 2 legal witnesses that are required to be in attendance.
The 3rd is my “Love Is In the Air” wedding package, my most popular package. This offers a personal introduction and the option of extra layers to be added to the ceremony to reflect the wishes of each individual couple.
If you’re interested in any of these wedding packages, please contact me with your date and email address and I’d be happy to send you further details on everything’s that included as well as my fee. (You’ll find all my contact details here.)
Note: No GST is payable for any of my ceremony packages.
Other than my “Short & Sweet” wedding package, I usually meet with couples 4 times before their marriage:
- twice, usually in my home office, where I explain all the legal elements involved in marrying in Australia, sight their documents (such as birth certificates/photo ID or passports and evidence [if relevant] of how a prior marriage ended), complete a Notice of Intended Marriage and gather all the special details I need to write a beautiful ceremony;
- once at their chosen venue for a rehearsal;
- and again on their wedding day.
Meetings in my home office vary in length but, on average, they would take 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours per visit.
I usually allow about an hour for a rehearsal plus travelling time and 1-1/2 hours (including set up and pack down) plus travelling time for the ceremony itself. While most of my ceremonies fall within a travelling time of 1 to 2 hours return, I am happy to accept bookings outside my local area. Some, for instance, have involved a travelling time of 3-4 hours return.
Each of my packages includes a 100km round trip. If travel to and from your wedding venue falls within this distance, no travel fee is applicable for either the ceremony or rehearsal. If travel to and from your wedding venue falls outside this distance, travel over the 100km is charged at 72c/km (the ATO recommended fee for business travel.) This covers my vehicle costs only. Importantly, I do not charge for my travel time. I set this aside for you and simply enjoy the scenery and accompanying music to and from your ceremony location.
If travel to your venue for a rehearsal is not feasible, or you’d prefer to have a rehearsal at my home, I’m happy to do so (at no extra charge) and witness your signatures on some final paperwork as well as go over the important details in the lead up to your ceremony. Note: If you’re coming from interstate or overseas, we can catch up shortly before your ceremony to sign this final paperwork.
Designing the ceremony
The length of time it takes to design each individual ceremony differs depending on each couple and their particular circumstances. Some request a very simple ceremony with no extras such as symbolic rituals, readings etc; often there is a more involved story that needs to be told. Some couples provide much of the information I require in the early stages; others require a few reminders before I start to gather everything I need.
I don’t think there’s an average time spent on each ceremony because they’re all unique. What I do know is that the feedback I receive from my couples is that they love what I write; in fact, they’re often brought to (happy) tears when they receive their draft ceremony. This tells me that I’ve asked the right questions and have put words to paper that touch their heart. I look on every ceremony as an opportunity to take people on a journey, one that isn’t too short or too long, but the perfect balance to reflect those involved. You’ll be able to read more about how many people have felt in the lead up to and on their special day by clicking on my Reviews page.
Other than meetings, after couples have booked with me, I keep in touch (usually via email) so we both have an electronic record of communication that can be filed away easily. I am also happy to connect via Facebook, Messenger video chat, Skype or phone. Online chats are particularly important where a couple does not live on the Northern Rivers of NSW but plan to marry in my local area.
8 weeks before each ceremony, I email couples to follow up on any details which are outstanding. They may also ask me for some help/ideas when writing their vows.
4 weeks before each ceremony, I send through a copy of the draft ceremony I have designed and arrange a rehearsal at the ceremony location. Where the wedding is in NSW, I also send through a summary of information entered into the Births Deaths & Marriages online system so that they can check all the details are still current. It is from this information that the Certificates of Marriage are populated, so it’s important that it’s correct.
At the rehearsal, or some time close to the ceremony date (if a couple chooses not to have a rehearsal), we will sign a form called the Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage. I will also check that the chosen ceremony songs (saved on a device provided by the couple) have been downloaded correctly and work well through my PA, go over lots of little intricacies with regard to the ceremony itself, run through the processional (with the bridal party if there is one) so that everyone feels comfortable with what will happen, and answer any final questions.
On the ceremony day, I always arrive 30-40 minutes prior to the arranged start time to set up my marriage paperwork and PA, check the volume of music is correct for the location, calm any nerves on the part of the groom, chat to other wedding suppliers (such as the photographer or wedding co-ordinator) and, shortly before the ceremony starts, advise family and friends (if relevant) regarding such things as an unplugged wedding ceremony, rose petal shower, where to gather for a group photo after the ceremony etc.
Registering your marriage
An authorised celebrant is allowed 2 weeks only to supply the relevant documentation to Births Deaths & Marriages in order for each marriage to be registered. I choose to scan my documents and do this online (usually the day after the wedding) which means that each marriage is registered quickly.
At the same time, in NSW, I can also order on your behalf a standard Certificate of Marriage (the one you’ll need to prove you’re married and to change your name legally if you wish) and/or a commemorative Certificate of Marriage. I do not charge to provide this service but simply pass on the fee that BDM would charge you to do this yourself. It saves you sharing your credit card details with me and having to complete a form before arranging for a JP to witness 3 sets of your ID. I’m happy to chat with you about options when we meet and to discuss arrangements if your marriage is in another state of Australia. You’ll find further information on the certificates available in NSW by clicking here.
Even after paying course fees and spending countless hours studying and submitting assessments (written and videoed) for Certificate IV in Celebrancy, there are many other considerations when it comes to ongoing business-related costs. For me, these include:
- paying an annual fee to the Attorney General’s Dept. (this is a legal requirement in order to maintain my registration as an authorised marriage celebrant);
- completing Ongoing Professional Development on an annual basis (this is another legal requirement in order to maintain my registration as an authorised marriage celebrant);
- covering the costs involved in running a website (hosting plus domain name) as well as any additional costs to upgrade or maintain my site from time to time (not including the time I spend each month writing a Blog post on my site);
- paying an annual membership fee to the Australian Federation of Civil Celebrants which includes “Professional Indemnity and Broadform Liability” insurance; copyright protection so that I can (legally) include music and poems in my ceremonies; and access to the many other benefits offered by the largest professional celebrant association in Australia;
- maintaining a suitable/reliable motor vehicle (registration, insurance, maintenance etc);
- having a suitable wardrobe (clothes and shoes) and maintaining a high standard with regard to hair, nails and makeup;
- providing the relevant legal marriage documents (Notice of Intended Marriage, the 3 legally required Certificates of Marriage and the Declaration of No Legal Impediment to Marriage etc);
- maintaining a comfortable office space in my home where I meet with clients;
- attending bridal expos and potentially running a special offer/competition and market my services (on average $250-$300 per expo + prizes/handouts etc);
- advertising in Local Search (currently in excess of $1,200 pa);
- maintaining work-related equipment such as my high quality PA system, laptop, printer, mobile phone etc.
- providing a comprehensive resource folder to each couple which contains details on the legal elements involved in marrying in Australia, sample poems and vows, a wedding checklist, a list of complementary symbolic rituals, organisations to contact with regard to a change of name etc.
- being available to meet with clients 7 days pw between the hours of 9am and 9pm (subject to other pre-arranged appointments) and by phone, email or Facebook (often outside these hours.)
Budget is always a consideration when planning a wedding but it’s worthwhile remembering the old adage “if you think hiring a professional is expensive, wait until you hire an amateur!”
I always say “any” authorised celebrant can marry you. Sadly, not all will take the time, as I do, to provide a professional service and one which sets the tone for a wonderful celebration on your wedding day.
I believe that one of the key considerations when choosing your celebrant and receiving value for money is to connect with them on a personal level. I always ask my couples to “share from the heart” so that I can weave their story into a beautiful ceremony which they and their family and friends will remember for all the right reasons!
Hopefully, after reading all of the above, you will be able to see that it’s not just about turning up for 20 minutes on the day. There is a whole lot more involved if you want to receive a bespoke ceremony from a professional who really cares.
You can find further information by reading my earlier Blog post entitled “How Do I Find the Right Celebrant For Me?
059 ~ 28/02/2019
© Lindy Cooke Celebrant