Registrar or Celebrant : So what’s the difference?


Weddings are by far one of the biggest events a couple will organise, and many couples want to take part in making their Wedding Day as personal and as wonderful as possible for their family and friends.  There are sooooooo many decisions to be made, and choices to weigh up.  So many pieces of advice to sift through, lists to be written and of course, google searches, Pinterest (here comes the rabbithole!) and discussions to be had! 

Guest Book in the form of a box frame shaped like a heart, with wooden heart shapes for guests to write on

Choosing the date, the guest list, the Venue, the Photographer/ Video. Then perhaps the outfits, Colour scheme, Cake flavours, Dress, and rings. Booking a registrar / giving notice might be next. At some point between all the big and small details and decisions you are constantly faced with, you may not have even considered what you want in terms of your Ceremony. Yes, you know – that bit that everyone is also there for: to witness your love and commitment, to celebrate your relationship, to learn about your dreams and plans, and to support you as you step into the next chapter of your adventure.

If this is you – then let me help you out here. A wedding is a time to celebrate, to bring those you love into a special moment that’s both a ritual and a ceremony. For modern couples, there are so many choices available, and these might make the number of decisions a little overwhelming.  

A Celebrant is standing between two brides who have just had a symbolic ceremony in a garden in Yorkshire

One question that is being asked by couples, is about the difference between Celebrants and Registrars (and even those who are called Registrar Celebrant). It has become slightly confusing, and we don’t all necessarily also know what a Celebrant is – so I thought I would try and clarify!

Registration of Marriage by a Registrar – governed by the Marriage Act, – is essentially a contract being made between two people, in front of 2 witnesses. The Act requires you to repeat 32 words in front of these witnesses, which then creates a legally binding union which we call Marriage. The other elements such as vows and ring exchange are not a mandatory element, but are included so that the experience is a warmer and more satisfying one, and also, a little more than 5 or so minutes!

Booking a standard 2 + 2 service would cost less than £70 at the register office. It becomes more expensive when you wish to legally register in the venues which they’ve already approved. You’ll have no additional choices – it’s the same service wherever it takes place.

But we can have an outdoor ceremony I hear you say – and yes, that’s true up to a point. The Government allowed this while it carries out a Law Review – but your legal registration must still be at a licenced venue or their offices, and any outdoor ceremonies can be held afterwards, will be symbolic only, and might not have the same Registrar leading it as was present at your legal registration. And if it is to be in in a private garden for instance, they will have to visit beforehand, and at a cost, to give their approval. If your unlicensed/ outdoor setting is not approved by them, then that will cause some additional headaches and costs too.

The additional time constraint, approval visits and fees might add more costs to the budget than anticipated.

The Pro for having a Registrar is the legal registration of your marriage. Since this is now digital, there’s no physical licence to sign, as what you now sign on the day is your schedule – you’ll receive the licence up to 2 weeks later by post.

Couples often choose a licensed venue as this does mean that you can have your marriage registration and reception at the same location on the same day.

The cons are :

  • Location -in licenced venues only with caveats for any unlicensed/outdoor venues
  • Time – Registrars prefer short ceremonies as they often have up several a day to attend to.
  • Day – in most cases, the registration is not available 365 days a year
  • Date – unless you book early, key dates will already be taken, and you might have a limited choice/unable to tie into your venue 
  • Content of Ceremony – templated modular service, with all external readings, music, vows etc vetted, to ensure they comply with law.
  • Flexibility – as Registrars will have several Marriages to attend, they will not be able to make any allowance for lateness and would not remain after their allocated time slot.
  • Familiarisation  – Registrars cannot spend time getting to know their couples, and couples will not know who is going to officiate their ceremony on the day.  
  • Fees and Costs – the exact same service is delivered irrespective of where it is occurring. Fees at their offices will be around £50 whereas at a licensed venue the fee could be as much as ten times more.  

It’s important to consider these differences so that you really can make the decisions that allow you to celebrate this major milestone in exactly the way you choose.

Delivering a heart felt ceremony!

A Celebrant-led ceremony is where the couple’s choice is unrestricted in every way, and over the years, has become hugely popular – and for good reason! The restrictions forced upon couples during Covid-19 meant that not only were Registrars offices closed or simply unable to book dates, restrictions on numbers allowed to gather meant that there was a huge backlog,  which simply couldn’t be handled by the registration services alone. Celebrants provided flexibility, stepping in so that couples who had booked venues didn’t lose deposits and a personal ceremony, and walked through this journey with them from initial contact through to their wedding day.

The Cavendish London

It’s important to note that although Celebrants are currently unable to register Marriage, the Law Review is looking at a solution where the Celebrant/Officiant is licensed to perform Marriages, rather than the venue holding the approval.

This would make it comparable to the process in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Currently in the UK only Humanist Celebrants can legally register Marriages, and only in Scotland, Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey. Humanist Celebrants offer secular personalised ceremonies for couples whose values and beliefs are Humanist. Information on Humanist ceremonies can be found at

The Pros of a Celebrant-led ceremony are:

  • Unrestricted Timing. Any length. Any time of day !
  • Location Restrictions: None. Simply nothing.
  • Familiar:  your Celebrant will have been working with you all through your planning and ceremony journey and will become a trusted member of your wedding party.
  • Date:  Any one of the 365 days is bookable, but do that as soon as you can, as we rarely book more than one ceremony per date.
  • Inclusive: bespoke rituals written just for you. Participation by guests in your rituals or ceremony.
  • Religious or spiritual content is completely appropriate and many ceremonies blend both respectfully and meaningfully
Smiles after the Wedding

So as some Register Offices are now offering “Celebrant-style” ceremonies, and whilst this opens up more options for couples, there are still several key differences between how we work, and you might like to ask a few questions of the Registrars before you decide on which option is best. It might be one or the other or it could be a combination.

Some suggested questions to ask :

  • Will I have the same person officiating the Ceremony on the day as I met when I gave notice and discussed my vision for my wedding ?
  • Will the Registrar Celebrant be able to offer me support from the moment I book – including personal WhatsApp and out of hours communication?
  • Will I be able to work closely over many months with the same Registrar Celebrant to craft my ceremony?
  • Can I include rituals based on or that include Faith, Culture or my Heritage
  • Can I have the Ceremony in one or more languages?
  • Are my guests able to have celebration drinks before and during my Ceremony – particularly if my rituals contain alcohol?
  • Can I have my fur babies as part of my Big Day, as Escort, or Ring Bearer for example?
  • Are there any time restrictions on my Ceremony? 
  • Can I hold my Marriage and Wedding on different days, and in different locations?
  • My Ceremony is likely to last for at least 45 minutes or so – but might be an hour. Is that ok?
  • If weather issues delay us, will the Registrar Celebrant remain with us on site until we are ready?
  • Will my guests be able to eat and drink during the ceremony?
  • Can photos be taken during the ceremony?
  • Can we have a symbolic as well as a legal ceremony- with our chosen celebrant?

It’s important to be well informed and to ensure you have all the information you need before booking or making a final decision!

Most councils will offer similar services but not all do – so do find out what is really being offered and talk to independent celebrants too. Give me a call. I’m happy to explain what I can and can’t do for you.

WhatsApp +447800543426

Happy Wedding Planning!

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