what does a civil celebrant do?

In the world of weddings and other significant life events, there are two important roles that often come into play: civil celebrants and registrars. A question I get asked many times is “what are the differences between civil celebrants and registrars?” These days, it could even be the same person doing both roles (through the local authority), so it does get very confusing. While both play crucial roles in facilitating and officiating ceremonies, they differ in terms of their roles, responsibilities, and the types of events they oversee.

In this blog, I’ll look at the distinctions between the two, shedding light on each of their unique contributions to various occasions and to help guide you through which you may need and why.

can a civil celebrant officiate a legal marriage?

This is very clear cut – if you want to be legally married, you need to be married by an official registrar.  Albeit there has been talk for some time on civil celebrants having the power to officially marry couples, it is not yet in place here in the UK. So you’ll need an official registrar to make you legally a “Mr” or a “Mrs”!. A registrar led wedding can be in a local authority registry office (albeit there is a maximum of 4 people allowed), or at a venue which is licensed for civil ceremonies.  However, this limits you to only licensed venues if you want more than 4 people at your wedding ceremony.

How much does it cost to go have a registrar marry you? Dorset Registry offices fees vary from £46 at Dorchester Register Office to £629 Weymouth Ceremony Room (prices correct at November 2023). More information can be round here: Dorset Register Office – Register Births, Marriages & Deaths (registryoffice.uk) If you are opting for a venue which is licensed for civil ceremonies, then the venue can ultimately charge you what they want on top of the registrars fee.

More important than just the price is whether a registrar led wedding is going to meet your criteria for your special day ceremony. This is where consideration for a civil celebrant comes into play!

signing document

What is a Civil celebrant?

It’s your special day, so it’s fundamental that you have it your way. What happens if you want to get married in the place of your choice? What happens if your venue is not licensed for civil ceremonies? What happens if you want a story portrayed through your ceremony which is romantic, enchanting, captures your guests and includes your choice of readings, poems, and involves your children? What about if you want something funny, or completely off the wall?!

Then perhaps consider the option of getting the legal bits done in at your local register office (£46!) and then having your Wedding Celebration in a venue of your choice, at a time of your choice, with family and friends to celebrate on your special day.  This is when you will need a qualified civil celebrant to write and lead the ceremony for you. YOUR ceremony, YOUR way.

A civil celebrant (usually known simply as a “celebrant”) is a trained individual who specialises in conducting non-religious ceremonies that mark life’s significant milestones. Civil celebrant led ceremonies can include weddings, vow renewals, naming ceremonies, pet memorials and funerals.

When working with a wedding civil celebrant, you have FREE REIGN to create the ceremony you would like, right down to the last detail.  Whether it’s writing your own vows, or adding in traditions and rituals which include family, friends or pets.  Venue-wise, it can take place almost anywhere.  Even in a licensed wedding venue if that’s what you’d prefer.  This allows for limitless possibilities from home weddings to picturesque locations in the great outdoors (which we have in abundance in our beautiful county of Dorset).

differences between Civil Celebrants and Registrars

To understand the differences between civil celebrants and registrars, one of the main features of a civil celebrant is their ability to craft highly personalised and unique ceremonies that reflect the values, beliefs, and personalities of the individuals involved.

Here are some key aspects of civil celebrants:

  • Personalisation

Civil celebrants work closely with couples to create ceremonies that resonate with their preferences. They will spend time understanding the couple’s story, their values, and what they envision for their special day. A celebrant will meet with the couple at least 2 or 3 times, to ensure that by the time they get to the wedding day, the ceremony crafted is totally unique and contains exactly what the couple want it to contain.

What happens if you don’t really know what you want in your ceremony? You don’t have any ideas or a format, or readings/poems you want, or how to involve others? Again, this is where you experience celebrant can help by giving you endless ideas and examples.

  • Flexibility

Unlike religious ceremonies with set rituals, civil celebrants have the freedom to incorporate various elements into the ceremony, making it truly one-of-a-kind. This might include the story of how you met, the trials and tribulations you have both been through to get to where you are today, what you have learnt from each other, how you have grown together, your likes and dislikes of each other, readings, music, rituals, or symbolic acts that hold meaning for the couple or individuals.

Personally, I love the off the wall ideas which people come up with which fire up my imagination (including the Dr Who themed wedding last year, and the Marvel Themed one this year)! However, “traditional” and “personal” are the usual choices for couples. I have endless ideas to explore with couples (so no creative imagination needed on there side, which takes a lot of the stress away from them).

  • Restriction on guest numbers

The limit on the number people attending your wedding celebration is going to be greater than 4 (which it is in the registry office!). However the limitation on numbers at a civil celebrant led wedding is determined only by the venue.

  • Inclusivity

Civil celebrants are adept at writing ceremonies that respect and include diverse backgrounds, cultures, and beliefs. This inclusivity is especially important in today’s multicultural and interfaith societies.

  • Legal Binding

Whilst civil celebrants do conduct ceremonies, their ceremonies are not be legally binding. 

Registrars are government officials responsible for registering vital events such as births, deaths, and marriages. They oversee the signing of marriage licenses, certificates, and other necessary documentation. Their primary concern is to ensure that the marriage complies with all legal obligations.  So if you want to be legally married, you need to see a registrar (albeit at some point and that doesn’t have to be the day of your wedding celebration).

outside wedding

  • Limited Personalisation

Unlike civil celebrants, registrars may have limitations when it comes to personalising the ceremony. They are not there to create a personalised ceremony for you. While some registrars might allow minor customisations, the emphasis is on adhering to legal protocols. Registrar led ceremonies are generally done and dusted efficiently and much quicker than the much more personalised celebrant led weddings. It’s your wedding – give it the time you deserve!

  • Venue Restrictions

Often weddings officiated by registrars are held at specific venues, such as registry offices or approved locations. This is due to the legal nature of the ceremony and the need to maintain consistency in documentation and processes. As mentioned already, there are almost no restrictions on where you can have a celebrant led wedding.

celebrant led wedding
  • Efficiency

Some couples feedback that registrar led weddings are efficient. GREAT! If that’s what you want… That means “quick” and to the point. However as an experienced celebrant, organisation and efficiency are my mantras. BUT – your ceremony will be as long as you want it. As your civil celebrant I will not only be very efficient and highly organised throughout the whole process, but I will also without a doubt take away the stress from you and ensure you have your perfect ceremony.


In conclusion, when considering celebrating life’s important moments, both civil celebrants and registrars play indispensable roles. Civil celebrants bring personalisation, emotion, and if you wish fun and humour resonance to ceremonies, tailoring them to the couple or individual’s preferences. On the other hand, registrars ensure the legal validity of these ceremonies, handling essential paperwork to make unions and other life events official in the eyes of the law.

Whether you’re seeking a deeply personalised ceremony or need to navigate the legalities of an event, understanding the differences between Civil Celebrants and Registrars will help you make the right choices for your special day.

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