The law on getting married

The law on getting married

Entitlement to marry

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

Free to marry

If you are single, widowed or divorced, you will be free to marry.


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

  • In England & Wales, you can get married from the age of 16 if you have parental consent. Without parental consent, you can get married at 18. A law has been passed to remove the 'aged 16' option, but is not yet in force.
  • In Northern Ireland, you can get married from the age of 16 if you have parental consent. Without parental consent, you can get married at 18.
  • In Scotland, you can get married from the age of 16, with or without parental consent.


In England, Wales, Scotland and - from 13 January 2020 - Northern Ireland, there is no gender requirement for marriage. Transgender spouses can stay married, if they want to, after one of them has changed their gender.

Relatives who may not marry

Certain persons are unable to marry if they are related within prohibited degrees.

Blood relatives

Certain blood relatives may not legally marry each other. This includes marriages between siblings ('sibling' means a brother, sister, half-brother or half-sister) and between a parent and child (for example; a mother and son or father and daughter). You also cannot marry your grandparent, grandchild, your parent's sibling or your sibling's child.

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 (or any former 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. This includes marriages between:

Child of former civil partner

Child of former spouse

Former civil partner of grandparent

Former civil partner of parent

Former spouse of grandparent

Former spouse of parent

Grandchild of former civil partner

Grandchild of former spouse

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.


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 can you 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. Since 1 July 2021, it's possible to have all elements of the ceremony conducted outdoors at these venues (previously, they had to take place indoors).

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.

In Northern Ireland, religious institutions can decide whether or not they'll conduct same-sex marriages. You'll therefore have to consult with the officiant of the religious organisation you have in mind for your wedding.

Giving notice

It is a legal requirement to give notice of your intention to get married. You would give notice of at least 28 days at your local register office of your intended marriage or civil partnership. You must have been living in the registration district for at least 7 days to be able to give notice there. See below under Residency requirements for more information.

In Northern Ireland, same-sex couples can give notice to the registrar in their local district council of their intention to form a religious same-sex marriage.

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.

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.

Residency requirements

Getting married in the UK

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

There are no residency requirements in Northern Ireland or Scotland.

In England or Wales, the situation is different:

If you are both from the UK: You can give notice of your intention to get married in England and Wales at your local register office. You must have lived in the area covered by that register office for at least the prior 7 days. If your intended spouse lives in a different area, they will need to give notice separately at their local register office.

If either of you is not from the UK: You would need to give notice together at the local registration office where at least one of you has lived for 7 days prior to the day you give notice. This applies to you even if your intended spouse gave notice separately before 1 July 2021: if they did, you'll both have to give notice again (together).

You don't have to give notice together if each of you has one of the following:

  • British or Irish citizenship
  • settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme
  • a pending application made to the EU Settlement Scheme on or before 30 June 2021.

Getting married in the UK but living elsewhere

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.

Visa requirement to get married

If either you or your intended spouse are from outside the UK, you may need a visa before you can get married. The type of visa will depend on where you intend living after the event. More information to check if you can get married in the UK is available on GOV.UK.

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.

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.

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.


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.

What happens after you give notice?


Once given, your notices are publicised by the relevant registration authority by being displayed in the Marriage Notice Book. The notice will be publicised for 28 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.

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