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The regulations concerning marriage are slightly different in the various principalities of the UK; however, marriages are usually recognized in all principalities. For example, it is relatively common for English people to marry in Scotland.

Legal marriages

Two people can legally marry in England or Wales if:

  • they are 18 years of age or older, or are 16 years of age or older with parental consent, or are 16 years of age or older and have been married before (in other words, parental consent is needed for people 16-18 years of age, but only on the first occasion). 'Parental' consent includes the consent of a legal guardian. In certain cases where consent is refused, it may be granted by a court, and
  • one partner was born male and the other female, whatever gender they currently profess, and
  • neither partner is married already, and
  • they are not related in a forbidden degree. The rules in this respect are complex, but in essence marriages are not allowed between first degree relatives (mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister), even if these relationships are by adoption (in the case of religious marriage ceremonies, religious institutions may impose greater restrictions in this respect than law dictates), and
  • at least one party satisfies some residence requirements (see below), and
  • it probably goes without saying, but both partners must consent and be of sound mind.

In Scotland people aged 16-17 do not need parental consent, and there are no residence requirements. Northern Ireland has regulations about parental consent and residence that are similar to those in England and Wales.

Place and manner of marriage In England and Wales a marriage ceremony can be conducted

  • in a register office, by civil ceremony conducted by a Superintendent Registrar, or
  • in any building licenced for weddings by the Local Authority, by civil ceremony conducted by
  • a Superintendent Registrar (note that the law says that such a building must be 'seemly and dignified'; some wedding venues stretch these terms), or in a church of chapel of the Church of England or of Wales, by Christian ceremony, in the presence
  • of a minister of the church, or in any place of worship that has been authorized by the Registrar General, by religious

ceremony in the presence of a Superintendent Registrar. This applies to most places of religious worship.

In Scotland, Registrars only conduct wedding ceremonies in register offices, where ministers of the Church can, in theory, conduct ceremonies anywhere, even outdoors. This situation is almost the reverse of that in England and Wales. Note that in England and Wales marriages are not conducted outdoors either in religious or civil ceremonies.

In all cases, the marriage ceremony must be conducted in the presence of two witnesses.

To be married by a Registrar, one or both partners must give formal notice to the Registrar and thereby obtain a Registrar's certificate to marry. This usually means visiting the register office of the district(s) in which the partners live. It will be necessary to show residence in the registration district for at least 7 days. Normally the intention to marriage is published at the register office for 21 days, after which the marriage can go ahead. This period is to allow potential objectors to register their concern. To marry in less than 21 days, one must obtain 'special licence' from the Registrar. With this, only one clear day is required between giving notice and getting married. However, the rules about proof of identity, residence, etc., are stricter, and the fees are higher. In practice this form of marriage is not used very often.

To be married according to the rites of the Church or England or of Wales, one or both partners must get the agreement of the vicar of the church in which the wedding is to be conducted. The vicar will 'read the banns' on three consecutive Sundays, after which the couple are free to marry for the next three months. Note that the time period between giving notice with this form of marriage is the same (three weeks) as in a civil service. Alternatively 'common licence' can be sought from a bishop, or 'special licence' from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Alternatively the partners can obtain a licence from a Superintendent Registrar, as for a civil marriage.

To be married by the rites of any other faith, one must obtain a Registrar's certificate, exactly as for a civil ceremony. Whether a Registrar needs to be present at the ceremony depends on the religion.

Marriages that are conducted illegally, or on people who cannot legally by married, are considered void (see: Void Marriage). In law, such a marriage is considered not to be a marriage at all, as if it had never taken place. Other suspect marriages may be voidable (see: Voidable marriage), that is, capable of being declared void. Otherwise the terms of marriage are binding until divorce (see: Divorce), or the death of either partner.

Family Law