In the eyes of the law, a couple who have registered themselves as Husband and Wife with a Registrar of Marriages, is legally married. The Registrar would make clear its legal implications (like 'you cannot marry again unless you are divorced'), to the about to be married couple (I was about to use the word 'young' but then realize that there might be some old men and women who would decide to go through this procedure to make it official for certain reasons).
I know of a young couple who were registered three years ago and wife discovered herself pregnant, which led to a rush to fix a date for wedding pictures to be taken. It was after the birth of the first child that another date was chosen for the Chinese wedding ceremony. The wife lamented that one of the reasons (especially to her) why they are buying a house for themselves is because she did not even have a new set of bedroom furniture after all that!
If we assume everyone would take marriage registration very seriously, then it would come as a surprise to read about people doing it 'for convenience' like when a foreigner wanting to live and work here, who is willing to register with a local as 'husband and wife' on paper. The joke was when some foreign women were caught by the police at a suspected prostitute den, one claimed to be married to a local man. When the husband came, he could not tell which one is his wife!
But then again, there are many cases of foreigners who are genuinely involved in a relationship with a local. Their frequent visits here (especially young women) created doubts in the minds of the immigration officers who might think they are here for immoral purposes.
These days, people are more concerned about the legal implications in relation to properties and money. If I am not mistaken, when a wife died intestate (without leaving a valid will), what she has in her name goes to the husband. On the other hand, when a husband died without a will, one third goes to his widow and the remaining two thirds are to be shared equally among their children. Of course there are much more to these simple situations.
I was in KL to witness my son's wedding registration. It was only the day before that I was told about the arrangements, like we were to have lunch at Seri Carcosa, and not knowing who will be attending. It was really a very small gathering of 15 including the newly weds, one side of the parents (us), my two sisters-in-law (and husband but left before lunch), bride's friends and Beng's university mates and a cycling mate who doubled as photographer.
Anyway, my son selected the registration date to coincide with ours, exactly 35 years ago! What a difference it made! Ours was arranged by my in-laws, held in Ipoh, witnessed by a company secretary and someone else which I cannot remember. My parents did not attend the simple ceremony. I actually took six weeks of leave to come back from UK for the wedding on Valentine's Day and registration soon after. Almost everything was arranged by someone else and I felt like an actor acting the part!
This time, it was arranged by Beng with the help of his uncle, and the registration was witnessed by two lawyers: a retired corporate lawyer who is also Beng's aunt and godma, and a young practising lawyer who is Dot's good friend. Somehow, a sense of 'deja vu' was felt because yet again, I was like an actor filling the role! The most memorable part was after the lunch, as we were leaving, I asked Dot to 'kiew saeng ngor' meaning 'call me' in Cantonese, and she called me, 'Daddy' for a change! It was funny because earlier, I told them about a friend who felt goose pimples when his daughter-in-law called him Daddy for the first time.
As I have mentioned before, I became a great grand uncle a year ago but yet to be a grandfather. Now I am a father-in-law looking forward to become a datuk (not the official title but Malay for grandfather), hopefully soon but with the Chinese wedding a few months later in mind.