While lots of brides-to-be have a good idea of who they want to be in their bridal party, and the groom often has his best man picked out, choosing witnesses can be an all-together trickier task.
Legally, the only rules you need to abide by are that you must have two witnesses, they must be over the age of 16, able to understand the language of the ceremony and have the mental capacity to understand the nature of the ceremony.
Register office staff cannot act as your witnesses, so even if you’re planning on having a really small wedding, you will need two separate witnesses.
What do wedding witnesses do?
Wedding witnesses sign the marriage register, along with you and your partner, a practice that happens right at the end of your marriage service after your readings and vows, if you’re having them.
On TV and in films you often see couples picking strangers off the street and pulling them in to be their witnesses (normally in dramatic, last minute ceremonies), but if you don’t want to choose complete strangers, why not ask your photographer to be your witness?
If you’d like to put a bit more thought into who is your witness, read on for our advice on how to choose your wedding witness.
Who chooses the wedding witnesses?
There’s no strict rule on this - you and your partner could pick one each, or you can make the decision as a couple.
It’s more of a joint decision that choosing the bridal party or groomsmen, so ideally it would be someone who means something to both of you.
Do wedding witnesses have to be family?
Wedding witnesses do not have to be family. You can choose whoever you wish, as long as they are over 16, and fit the criteria listed above.
Choosing someone as a witness can be a good way to include siblings in your wedding ceremony if you aren’t close enough for them to be part of your bridal party but you’d still like them to be involved in the day.
Lots of people choose the mother-of-the-bride and mother-of-the-groom as the witnesses, as it gives the mother-of-the-groom a responsibility and helps her feel included in the day.
Can friends be wedding witnesses?
Choosing friends as wedding witnesses is a great way to include them in your wedding day, and would be a fabulous job for anyone who felt too shy to walk down the aisle as a bridesmaid, but would love a role in the day.
"My husband and I chose two of our closest friends to be our witnesses as we wanted them to have an important part in our special day and it was lovely to make them feel more involved," says wedding planner Alexandra Rose Bulman of Alexandra Rose Weddings.
When do you need to choose wedding witnesses by?
Legally, there’s no strict time to choose a wedding witness by, as Alexandra points out: "You can choose your witnesses as late as on the day of the wedding itself, there is no time frame!"
However given that you want them to stand up in front of the whole congregation, it would be good to give them a fair bit of notice - especially since they’ll need to be seated near the front of the ceremony to save them walking from the back - this is one of the reasons people often choose a member of the bridal party / groomsmen for the role of witness - because they’re already at the front of the occasion.