Getting married is undoubtedly a fun, exciting time, filled with celebration, festivity and revelry. Understandably, becoming bogged down in the lawfulness of the process can sometimes take away somewhat from the enthusiasm and anticipation of the big day. However, a marriage is a legally recognised union of two people, so needs to treated with a degree of seriousness to acknowledge the significance of such a union. In this blog, we walk you through all of the wedding legalities you need to be aware of, so that you can walk down that aisle with the confidence that everything is completely taken care of!
Firstly, you should be aware that a marriage can only legally and officially take place in premises that has been approved for this purpose. This includes a Register Office, a Church of the Church of England, a synagogue (if both partners are Jewish), a Meeting House (if either of the couple are Quakers), or the home of one of the partners if the partner is housebound. There are also other premises approved by the local authority with a license to hold weddings, such as country houses, hotels or other venues. This is something you should take into consideration before choosing your venue. Some venues aren’t legally licensed to approve weddings, so some couples have a ceremony-type event on their wedding day, but then go and have their wedding officially legalised on a separate day – before or after- in a Register Office or Church. Many couples do this, but it is worth being aware, particularly if it is important to you and your partner, that you are not legally married specifically on the day of your wedding.
There are two ways to get married: you can get married by a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony. In both cases, a couple of legal requirements must be met. First of all, the marriage must be conducted by a person or in the presence of a person authorised to register marriages in that particular district. Secondly, the marriage must be entered in the marriage register and signed by both parties, two witnesses, the person who conducted the ceremony and, if that person is not authorised to register marriages, the person who is registering the marriage.
The next thing to be aware of is your requirement to ‘give notice’. You and your partner must give notice of marriage in your local Register Office, whether or not you wish to marry in that district. If you and your partner live in different places, you’ll both have to go to your own local Register Office to give notice. The Superintendent Registrar then issues authority for the marriage and you can marry in any Register Office or local authority approved premises in any district. In England and Wales, 28 days notice must be given to the Register Office before the marriage can take place. You have to get married within 12 months of giving notice. Both partners must be resident for seven days in England or Wales before notice is given. A notice must state where the marriage is to take place and there is a fee for giving notice. You can arrange an appointment to give notice of marriage quite easily online. At the appointment, both of you need to attend and answer some questions, as well as provide some legal documents. You will also both be questioned separately, just with a few questions about each other, to verify that the marriage is genuine and nothing coercive or illegal is taking place.
In the period between the notice of intention to marry and the ceremony, anyone with strong grounds for objecting to the marriage can do so, as your wedding notice will be displayed for the public to see. Making a false statement is a criminal offence.
You and your partner will be asked for certain information when giving notice of your intention to marry. The information, which may be required, is: evidence of name and address, evidence of date of birth and evidence of nationality. A variety of documents can be used as evidence of the information required, but a passport or travel document is usually sufficient. You can also use your birth certificate if you were born before 1 January 1983. You should contact the register office where you’re getting married for more specific advice on what they will accept.
If you are getting married at a Church of England however, you don’t need to give notice of marriage to the Register Office. Instead of going to the Superintendent Registrar before the wedding day, banns (a notice of the proposed marriage) can be read in the parish church of each of the partners and in the church where it has been agreed the marriage can take place. Banns must be read on three Sundays before the ceremony. If you are getting married in a Church, the person officiating the wedding (for example, the vicar), can help guide you through this process.
In England, in some cases, the vicar may advise that you need to apply to the Church of England for a licence instead of using the banns procedure. You can find out more about getting married in the Church of England on the Church of England website at www.yourchurchwedding.org.
If you want to get married outside England and Wales you will need to follow the procedure of the law in that country. Try not to become too overwhelmed or stressed out with the legal requirements of a wedding. The Citizens Advice website is very helpful and simplifies the process well. In fact, when you start the process of giving notice and arranging the legal side of your wedding, you will be surprised to learn how straightforward the whole procedure actually is. If in doubt, ring your local Register Office and ask them, or your wedding venue/coordinator who will usually be more than happy to support you. Happy planning!
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