The law on getting married

The law on getting married

Contents

Entitlement to marry

To have the entitlement to get married you must comply with the conditions set out below.

Free to marry

A man and a woman are legally entitled to get married if they are free to marry. You qualify as free to marry if you are single, widowed or divorced.

Age

The minimum age at which you can get married varies, depending on where you live:

  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you can get married from the age of 16 if you have parental consent. However, without parental consent, you can enter into a civil partnership once you reach the age of 18
  • In Scotland, you can get married from the age of 16, with or without parental consent

Gender

People are not entitled to marry if they are of the same sex - you are able to register a civil partnership if this is the case. Conversely, people of the opposite sex cannot enter into a civil partnership and must instead get married.

Transsexuals who have been awarded a full gender recognition certificate by the Gender Recognition Panel are able to get a new birth certificate which reflects their new gender. If this is the case, they are allowed to marry someone of the opposite gender. If the gender recognition certificate has not been awarded then they are legally considered to be the gender which was on their original birth certificate and will not be allowed to marry someone of that gender.

Relatives who may not marry

Certain relatives are unable to marry because of their ties.

Blood relatives

Certain blood relatives, for example, a brother and sister, a mother and son or father and daughter may not get married to each other.

Adopted children

Adopted children and their genetic parents and genetic grandparents may not marry. If they do, the marriage will be automatically void, even if they do not know they are related. Adopted children may not marry their adoptive parents but they are allowed to marry the rest of their adoptive family, including their adoptive brother or sister.

Step relatives

People who are step relations or in-laws may marry only in certain circumstances and you are urged to seek legal advice if this is applicable to you. There are strict requirements and these marriages may usually only take place during a civil ceremony, under licence.

Provided they are aged 21 years or older, step-relatives may marry. However, the younger member of the couple must, at no time before the age of 18, have lived under the same roof as the older person. Neither must they have been treated as a child of the older person's family. Relatives-in-law may marry, provided that they are 21 years or older.

Getting engaged

Engagements are mainly for cultural reasons and have limited status. However, they can be used, for example, in immigration law as evidence of intention to marry.

Consequences of breaking an engagement

One of the parties can decide to end an engagement as an agreement to marry cannot be legally enforced.

England and Wales and Northern Ireland

If an engagement is broken, the person giving an engagement ring usually cannot require it to be returned unless, at the time it was given, it was specifically said that it should be returned if the engagement were broken.

Any other property belonging to the couple should be divided between them in the same way as property would be divided if the couple divorced. If the couple cannot agree about entitlement to property, either person can apply to a court to decide the issue, provided this is done within three years of the end of the engagement.

Scotland

There is no definitive rule as to whether or not an engagement ring has to be returned. Each case has to be decided on its own merits. You should seek legal advice if this issue affects you.

Any other property should be divided according to the Scottish law of property. For example if the woman owned a house in her sole name it would remain her sole property

Where you can get married?

Civil marriage

A marriage can take place in a register office, at a venue approved for civil marriage, or any religious building that is registered for the solemnisation of marriage and may be solemnised by a registrar or assistant registrar who has been approved by the Registrar General for that purpose.

Religious ceremonies

If you wish to be married in a Christian church, generally you will only be able to do so if you or your partner lives in the parish or are part of that church's congregation - you should first speak to the appropriate minister of faith/religion or Officiant.

If you wish to marry by religious ceremony other than in a Christian church, you should first arrange to see the person in charge of marriages at the building. It will also be necessary for both of you to give formal notice of your marriage to the superintendent registrar of the district(s) where you live. A registrar may also need to be booked from the register office in the district where the marriage is to take place in order to register the marriage.

In Scotland, the only legal requirement is that the person you expect to conduct the ceremony has to be an approved celebrant registered to conduct marriages.

Giving notice

It is a legal requirement to give notice of marriage. Notices of marriage are legal documents covered by certain legislation which makes falsifying them a criminal offence. This legislation is:

  • In England & Wales, the Perjury Act 1911
  • In Scotland, the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977
  • In Northern Ireland, the Perjury (Northern Ireland) Order 1979

Residency requirements

Getting married in the UK

There are different residency requirements depending on where in the UK you wish to marry.

England & Wales

You can get married in England and Wales as long as you have both lived in a registration district for at least seven days immediately before giving notice of marriage.

This applies to all couples, including those travelling from overseas to marry in England and Wales - except where one person gives notice under the Marriage of British Subjects (Facilities) Acts 1915 and 1916. These acts allow British or Commonwealth citizens resident in one of the countries signed up to the Acts to give their notice of marriage where they are living, provided the other person is resident here.

Provided the person they intend to marry is resident in England and Wales, officers, seamen or marines on board one of Her Majesty's ships at sea can give notice to the captain or other officer commanding the ship.

Note that if you live in England & Wales, but wish to get married in Scotland, you can still choose to give notice of marriage to the superintendent registrar in the district in which you live.

Northern Ireland & Scotland

There are no residency requirements in Northern Ireland or Scotland.

Getting married outside of the UK

If you live in a country outside of the UK and you intend to have your marriage ceremony in the UK, you will be subject to the marriage laws of the country that you ordinarily live in, as opposed to being subject to UK marriage laws. You should try to obtain a document from your own country confirming that there is no impediment to the marriage. For an example of this kind of document, click on the following link for a 'Certificate of no impediment' for Australia:

If you are subject to immigration control

If you are living in the UK and are subject to immigration control, you will not be able to give a notice of marriage unless one of the following is true:

  • You have an entry clearance or visa granted expressly for the purpose of marriage in the UK
  • You have a certificate of approval from the UK Border Agency department of the Home Office
  • You are getting married in the Anglican church in England and Wales
  • You have settled status in the UK
If you have less than six months leave to remain in the UK, have overstayed your leave to remain or are in the UK illegally, you can still apply for a certificate of approval, but the Home Office will write you a letter requesting further detailed information. This information will be required to prove that your marriage is genuine and not one of convenience.

Further information about obtaining a certificate of approval and on the class of persons who will be exempt from these provisions is available from the UK Border Agency.

British citizens, EEA and foreign nationals can continue to give notice in their district of residence if they:

  • Have been given the right of abode in the UK
  • Are members of visiting forces from NATO and Commonwealth countries
  • Are diplomats that are not subject to immigration control
Registration officers have a statutory duty to report any marriage they suspect has been arranged for the sole purpose of evading statutory immigration controls.

Documentation required

You will need to show the registrar documentary evidence of your name, age and nationality – ideally in the form of your passport. You will also be asked to provide evidence of your address.

If you have been married before, you will also need to produce documents that confirm that you are now free to marry. These could include:

  • A decree of divorce or certified copy decree (For England or Wales this must be the decree absolute and not the decree nisi.)
  • The death certificate of your former husband or wife
And, if you are subject to immigration control, you will also need to produce documentary evidence to confirm that you are eligible to be married in the UK.

Contact details for obtaining copies of divorce decrees

If you need a copy of a decree of divorce, please contact the court in which the divorce was granted, or:

England and Wales

The Principal Registry of the Family Division

First Avenue House

42 - 49 High Holborn

London

WC1V 6NP

+44 (0) 7947 6000

Northern Ireland

Matrimonial Office

Royal Courts of Justice

Chichester Street

Belfast

BT1 3JF

Tel: 028 9023 5111

Scotland

The National Archives of Scotland H.M Register House

2 Princes Street

Edinburgh

EH1 3YY

+44 (0)131 535 1314

What information does notice include?

A marriage notice states for each person:

  • Name and surname
  • Date of birth
  • Condition (marital status)
  • Occupation
  • Nationality
  • Place of formation

Where and how to give notice

You both need to go to your local register office to give notice of your intention to marry. You must both give notice of marriage in person - no one else can do it on your behalf

England and Wales

In England and Wales, you have to go to the register office where you have a seven day residential qualification. See above under the 'Residency requirements (England & Wales)' heading for more information.

If you plan to marry in a different area, you should also contact the register office for the district in which the marriage is due to take place.

If you or the person you wish to marry are subject to immigration control, you will only be able to give your notices of marriage at a specially designated register office which you must attend together. There are 76 designated register offices in England and Wales. A list of these 76 offices is available on the Gov.uk website. You must go to the designated office together and satisfy the eligibility requirements in a 'giving notice' interview.

For more information, see the UK Border Agency website.

When you give notice in Wales, you may do it in either English, or in English and Welsh. If notice is to be given bilingually, both the person giving notice and the registrar you see must be able to understand the Welsh language. All local authorities in Wales have at least one Welsh speaking registrar or deputy.

Northern Ireland

You must go to the register office for the district in which the marriage is to take place even if it isn't the same district that you live in. This is because you will need to ensure that a superintendent registrar (to conduct the service) and a registrar of marriages (to record the details in the marriage register and issue your certificate) will be free to attend your chosen venue on the day.

If you, or the person to whom you want to get married, are subject to immigration control, you must satisfy the eligibility requirements in a 'giving notice' interview.

For more information, see the UK Border Agency website.

Scotland

You both have to submit a marriage notice with the appropriate fee and necessary documentation to the registrar for the district in which the marriage is to take place. Each of you must complete a marriage notice to ensure that you are both aware that the marriage is expected to take place. On each marriage notice there is a declaration for you to sign confirming that the particulars and information given on the notice are correct.

If you, or the person to whom you want to get married, are subject to immigration control, you must satisfy the eligibility requirements in a 'giving notice' interview.

For more information, see the UK Border Agency website.

What happens after you give notice?

Publication

Once given, your notices are publicised by the relevant registration authority by being displayed in the Marriage Notice Book. The period for which it is publicised depends on where you have given notice:

  • In England and Wales for 15 days
  • In Northern Ireland for 14 days
  • In Scotland for 15 days

When to give notice

After giving this notice, normally you must wait until this publication period is over before you can get married. Your notice will remain valid for 12 months in England & Wales and Northern Ireland, but only 3 months in Scotland, so you will want to take these time frames into consideration when thinking about when you wish to register your marriage.

The Marriage Schedule or Certificate of Authority

England and Wales

After the notice period and if the registrar is satisfied that there is no impediment to your intended marriage he will issue you with a Certificate of Authority, also referred to as a marriage licence, to get married.

Scotland and Northern Ireland

Based on the information that you both provide in your notice, the relevant registration authority will prepare the marriage schedule. This document contains all relevant particulars and is a most important document as the marriage cannot proceed without it. If you are having a religious marriage the marriage schedule will be issued to you by the registrar. It will only be issued to the bride or groom so nobody can collect it on your behalf. This marriage schedule must be given to the person performing the marriage prior to the ceremony. Both of you will have to sign it together with two witnesses and the person performing the marriage ceremony. This will then be returned to the registrar so that the marriage can be registered.

If you are having a civil marriage the marriage schedule will not be issued to you. The registrar will have it available on the day of the marriage ceremony for signature. Subsequently the details of the marriage schedule will be used to register the marriage.