I often get asked, how many witnesses do I need, what is their role, and what do they sign, so here it is!
Regardless if you are eloping or planning a large wedding event, in Ontario you will need two witnesses from anywhere in the world who are preferably over the age of 15. The age, residence, and relation of the witnesses are not as relevant as simply having people who are of sound mind and body. They do not even need to know you as they are simply acknowledging that they saw you make a statement of consent to marry your spouse and they heard my declaration of your marriage.
They must be able to sign their names three times and write their address in the Officiant's Wedding Register, otherwise known as the Blue Book. The Wedding Register is the Officiant's copy of the marriage licence and should be completed exactly as the information has been presented in the marriage licence. The Marriage Licence and the Record of Solemnization are provided by city hall and should not be completed without the Officiant.
Even if only one of you went to pick up the the Marriage Licence and the Record of Solemnization, and only one of you signed in front of the city hall clerk, do not have your spouse sign Part 2: Marriage Affidavit (Form 4), as your licence will be rejected by the Registrar's Office. Once you leave City Hall, no one, not even the Officiant, should write on any part of the licence above Part 3. If it any of the information above Part 3 is incorrect, return to the City Hall to get the error corrected before signing the licence with the Officiant.
The signing, which takes place after the couple has agreed to marry each other and the Officiant proclaims the couple married, confirms that the marriage has taken place and that the couple, the witnesses, and the Officiant have all performed their duties accordingly.
During the signing, the Officiant will first direct the witnesses where they should sign: the Marriage Licence, the Record of Solemnization, and the Officiant's Marriage Register. The witnesses must also write in their addresses in the Marriage Register.
This whole process can take some time depending on whether the couple wants the photographer to capture the moment, and how long it takes for all the different individuals to fill in their signatures and addresses. I usually tell couples that for the signing, they will need a small table and at least one chair. Cruiser tables are less awkward to stand behind, do not require chairs and work best if anyone is wearing a strapless dress.
It is important to know that you have an option to do the signing of the paperwork before and after your ceremony, as long as you have the two witnesses. This can shorten the length of your ceremony in front of guests. When I do the signing in the middle of the ceremony, I often have the witnesses complete their address information prior to the ceremony starting to save time.
I also advise couples to consider having music playing during this time (instrumental pieces work best so that it can be faded out when the signing is over). If the couple has musicians, they can play a piece that can be repeated and ended naturally. The reason for having music during the signing is that no one is speaking at this time. The Officiant is directing the couple and the witnesses to sign. Music lets the guests know that the ceremony is still happening, but still fills what would otherwise be an awkward silence, or worse, your guests start chatting and checking their phones.
The couple getting married have two places to sign: the Marriage Licence and the Marriage Register. Once this is done, YOU ARE MARRIED!!The Officiant is legally obligated to mail in the licence within 48 hours to the Registrars Office in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
I always take a photo of the licence before I mail it away, but this is only for my own records. In the case the licence gets lost in the mail, the couple will need a photocopy of their page from the Officiant's Marriage Registrar. It will need to be signed, dated, and the Officiant must write on it that it is a certified copy of the missing licence.
The Record of Solemnization is included in your Marriage Licence package provided to you by City Hall. It is a fake marriage certificate, a souvenir. It is up to the couple to request the real Marriage Certificate from Service Ontario. The package includes a form to mail in to receive the real Marriage Certificate, but it is faster, easier and saves the couple a stamp to do it online. City Hall clerks will often tell the couple that they should not do this until weeks after the wedding, but they can apply online any time starting the day of the marriage because the system will keep their request active and produce the Marriage Certificate once the licence has been received and processed. Trust me, this works and is the recommended way of expediting the marriage certificate. Only the couple can apply for the Marriage Certificate. The Officiant should always complete the record of Solemnization with the exact information that is on the licence as that exact information is required to request the Marriage Certificate.