Making it Official - The Legal Requirements of Marriage

Everything you need to know about making sure your marriage is legal in the UK

Slipping a wedding ring on your finger makes your relationship about as “official” as it gets. While you may have previously just acted like a married couple, it really starts to hit home when you tie the knot.


But getting married isn’t just about the ceremony (or the reception!), it’s about making your marriage legal and of course this involves a bit of admin. So here’s the skinny on what it takes to make your marriage officially official.


First Thing’s First


Before you go any further you have to make sure that the following apply:


You are 16 or over - As controversial as it may seem, couples as young as 16 are allowed to get married if they have parental consent. This goes for couples who are 17 as well. In N. Ireland the rules are a little different and require 18 year olds to also have consent.


You are not closely related - You might well be balking at the idea of marrying your brother or getting cosy with your cousin, but historically it’s not unheard of.


You are free to be married - I’m sure you would realise if you were already married, but you might like to check just in case. So long as your single/divorced/widowed then you are good to go.


Same Sex Couples


You probably already know the good news- as a same sex couple you can now legally get married in England, Scotland and Wales. Woohoo! Unfortunately same sex marriages are not legal in N. Ireland but you can form a civil partnership.


What You Need to do


Giving Notice - Now that you’ve got the green light you will have to go and give notice at your local registry office. If you live abroad and are planning on getting married in England or Wales,  you might be able to give notice where you’re living if that country has signed up to the ‘British Subjects Facilities Acts’, but your partner must be a UK resident.


For most marriages and civil partnerships you will have to give a minimum of 28 full days notice at your local registry office - bearing in mind that you must have lived in the area for a minimum of 7 days. Your notice will then be publicly displayed for those 28 days. You would very rarely quit your job without giving a months notice, so remember that you have to give the single-life that same courtesy. Leaving your notice until the last minute just isn’t going to fly, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.


Once you have given notice you must get married, or register your civil partnership within 1 year; but if you are living in Scotland you’ll only have 3 months so hop to it!


Documents - As with most things, when you give notice you’re going to need to take some ID and proof of address with you.


Any of the following for proof of ID:


 valid passport

 birth certificate

 national identity card from the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland

 certificate of registration

 certificate of naturalisation

 biometric residence card or permit

 travel document


and then any Of these for proof of address:


 valid UK or EEA driving licence

 gas, water or electricity bill from the last 3 months

 bank or building society statement from the last month

 council tax bill from the last 12 months

 mortgage statement from the last 12 months

 current tenancy agreement

 letter from your landlord confirming you live there and including your landlord’s name,  address and their signature dated within the last 7 days.


You're also each going to have to pay a fee of £35 when you give notice; so make sure you set aside £70 in your budget for this. Bear in mind that It can be even more if you or your partner are from outside EEA or Switzerland.


If you're divorced/widowed – If you've never been married before you wont have to worry about this, but if you have you are going to have to prove your eligibility for marriage. To do this you will need either a decree absolute/final order or the death certificate of your late partner.


Legally Approved Venues


A marriage can take place in:-


 a Register Office

 premises approved by the local authority such as a hotel

 a church of the Church of England, Church in Wales, Church of Ireland, Presbyterian or Roman Catholic Church in N. Ireland (opposite sex couples only)

 a synagogue or any other private place if both partners are Jewish

 a Meeting House if one or both partners are either members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) or are associated with the Society by attending meetings

 any registered religious building (England and Wales only)

 the home of one of the partners if the partner is housebound or detained, for example, in prison

 a place where one partner is seriously ill and not expected to recover, for example, in hospital

 a licensed naval, military or air force chapel.


Unfortunately, same sex couples can only get married in a religious ceremony, if their chosen religious organisation has given same sex marriage the go- ahead. While it would be nice if all religions approved same sex marriage, religious organisations or individual ministers do not have to marry same sex couples. For example same sex couples cannot marry in The Church of England or the Church in Wales.


If a religious ceremony is not your thing, there are plenty of other places where a marriage ceremony can be legally held; however, applications for approval from the local authority must be made by the owner of the premises, not the couple getting married. The venue must be regularly open to members of the public, so private homes are unlikely to be approved. Stately homes, hotels and civic buildings are generally thought to be suitable. Approval will not be given for open air venues, such as moonlit beaches or golf courses. Hot air balloons or aeroplanes will not be approved, so you can breathe a big sigh of relief if you are not one for heights!


Your local town hall should be able to give you a list of local venues that have been approved, or if you are in England or Wales you can find a list on the GOV.UK website.


During the Ceremony


Whether you're having a religious ceremony or a civil one, it must be conducted by a person or in the presence of a person authorised to register marriages in the district. Getting a friend to conduct the ceremony may be a lovely idea, but unless you have a registered official present then I'm afraid you're going to have to do it over.


Once the ceremony is finished 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.


Generally speaking that's all there is to it; however,  we do recommend that if you are opting for a religious ceremony, you look into the specific requirements of each religion as different notice periods and other requirements may have to be met.

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