We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue to use this site we will assume that you agree to our Privacy Policy

/ 14 Dec 2022

Is my marriage valid?

This year, the Law Commission published its report into marriage law in England and Wales, recommending a root-and-branch reform of the system which would see a much simpler and more flexible set of rules about where and in what circumstances marriage ceremonies can take place. The current rules on the validity of marriages remain bewilderingly complicated for couples to navigate. This article aims to demystify the process.

Liz Francis

Managing Partner

Joint Head of Family & Divorce

View profile

The focus of this article is on marriages formed in England and Wales. The validity of marriages formed abroad will be the topic of a future blog.

In order for a marriage carried out in England or Wales to be valid, there are a number of requirements or ‘formalities’. These can be broken down into the following categories which will each be considered in turn:

 

  • The parties to the marriage
  • Notice
  • Religious and civil ceremonies/authorised persons
  • Venue
  • Vows
  • The marriage register

The parties to the marriage

The ‘parties’ to a marriage are the two individuals who make up the marriage together, otherwise referred to as ‘spouse’, ‘husband’ or ‘wife’.

Both parties must be 16 or over to marry in any circumstance. If they are 16 or 17 they will require permission from their parents to marry.

Neither party can have an existing marriage or civil partnership.

The parties must not be closely related to each other. This is referred to as being within ‘prohibited degrees of relationship’. The prohibited degrees of relationship are as follows:

  • Parent/child
  • Adoptive parent/adoptive child
  • Former adoptive parent/former adoptive child
  • Grandparent/grandchild
  • Parent’s sibling/sibling’s child
  • Siblings.

Other degrees of relationship will also be prohibited unless the parties are 21 or over at the time of registering the marriage and the younger party has never lived with the older party and been treated as a child of the older party’s family. These ‘qualified’ prohibited degrees are as follows:

  • Child of former spouse/former spouse of parent
  • Grandchild of former spouse/former spouse of grandparent

If either party is not from the UK, they may need to apply for a visa or permit to be allowed to marry in England or Wales.

Notice

The parties must notify their local register office that they intend to marry at least 29 days before the ceremony. Your local register office is determined by which ‘registration district’ you live in. You can find your local register office using the search function on the UK government website.

If both parties have lived in the same registration district for at least 7 days prior to giving notice, they must give notice together at the same office.

If the parties have not been living in the same registration district for at least 7 days prior to giving notice, each party will need to go separately to register at their respective local offices.

If one of the parties is not a British or Irish citizen, and does not have settled or pre-settled status in the UK, both parties must register at the same time at the same register office. This must be the local register office for at least one of the parties.

Once you have determined your local register office, you will need to book an appointment. You will need to bring to this appointment the following:

  • Information about where the wedding ceremony will be held,
  • Documents proving the name, date of birth and nationality of each party (such as a passport),
  • Documents proving the current home address of each party (such as a bank statement or utility bill).

If either party has changed their name, they will need to provide proof of this name change.

If either party was previously married or in a civil partnership, they will need to provide proof that that marriage or civil partnership has ended. This can be a decree absolute/final order showing that you are divorced, or a death certificate if your former partner has died.

If either party is not a British or Irish citizen, and does not have settled or pre-settled status, they will need to provide proof of their current immigration status and both parties will need to provide a passport-sized photo of themselves.

If you are having a ceremony within the Church of England or the Church in Wales, you may not need not give notice of the marriage in advance. In the majority of circumstances, banns (notices announcing an intended marriage), must be read out in church on 3 Sundays (which do not need to be consecutive) within the 3 months preceding the ceremony. In some cases, you may need to apply for a special licence from the Church instead of using the banns procedure.

Contact your local register office for further information about booking appointments and for details of the specific documents they will accept as proof.

Religious and civil ceremonies/authorised persons

If you are getting married, you can choose whether to have a religious or civil ceremony.

If you are forming a civil partnership, you can only do so through a civil ceremony.

Music and readings can form part of a civil ceremony, but must not be religious.

Both religious and civil ceremonies must be carried out by, or in the presence of, a person authorised to register marriages. In a civil ceremony, this will be a registrar. For religious ceremonies, the picture is more complicated.

The Church of England and the Church in Wales are authorised to register marriages. Clergy from other religions can be authorised to register marriages and will need a licence to do so. If you are having a Quaker or Jewish ceremony, the authorisation is automatic.

If the person conducting the ceremony is not authorised to register marriages, there will need to be an authorised person present at the ceremony, such as a registrar, in order for the marriage to be registered.

Venue

If you are having a civil ceremony, this can take place in a register office or any premises approved by the local authority. Previously, only buildings or permanently moored boats could be approved as premises for the conduct of marriage ceremonies. As of 1st July 2021, marriage ceremonies have been allowed to take place within areas linked to approved premises, such as grounds or gardens.

If you are having a religious ceremony, things are again more complicated.

Jewish and Quaker marriage ceremonies have no restriction as to location.

Marriage ceremonies in the Church of England or the Church in Wales must take place in a church or other building where banns can be read, although an Archbishop can give a special licence for one to take place anywhere.

Marriage ceremonies under other religions can only take place in a registered religious building. The Government has, however, announced its intention to expand the approval of outdoor weddings to all religious ceremonies in the near future.

Exceptions allowing a marriage ceremony to take place elsewhere may apply if a party is detained, housebound or seriously ill and not expected to recover.

Vows

If you are getting married, whether through a religious or civil ceremony, you must give vows.

There are standard vows for civil ceremonies which cannot be changed. You may add your own vows, however.

The marriage register

After the ceremony, the following people will need to sign the marriage register:

  • The parties to the marriage,
  • Two or more witnesses who attended the ceremony (for instance, friends or relatives),
  • The person who conducted the ceremony,
  • The person registering the marriage, if the person conducting the marriage is not authorised to register marriages.

See Religious and civil ceremonies above for information about who is authorised to register marriages.

Failure to comply with formalities

If you do not comply with all of the requirements above, it may mean that your marriage is invalid. Failure to form a valid marriage can have a serious impact on your legal rights, including whether you have any financial claims if your relationship breaks down. For more information on what makes an invalid marriage, and what the consequences could be for your legal status watch this space!

Get in touch
Call us on +44 20 7228 0017