It may sound obvious, but the essential difference
between getting married in a church and in a register office is
that the latter has no religious significance. This is the cheapest
and fastest way to get married (taking between only ten and twenty
minutes), and the ceremony is usually held in a room within a civic
Getting married at a register office was once the only option open
to divorcees, those who had no religious beliefs, those wanting
a quick ceremony with minimal fuss or couples marrying someone from
a different faith. However, thanks to the 1994 Marriage Act which
allows civil ceremonies to take place at licensed venues, the register
office has rapidly lessened in popularity and many couples who choose
to marry there want a simple, legal wedding prior to a more personal
blessing, wedding abroad or Humanist ceremony.
You can often personalise your wedding with music, poetry and flowers
but any amends to the standard ceremony are at the discretion of
the individual registrar and must be agreed to beforehand. Often
time restraints and the registrar's personal opinion will restrict
any attempt to create a more personal service and you may prefer
a civil ceremony
in a licensed venue.
You are legally entitled to marry at any register office in Wales
and England, regardless of the area that you live in, although your
notice of intention to marry must be given at the register office(s)
where each of you reside. Make an appointment to see the Superintendent
registrar at your chosen office as soon as possible to set a date
and obtain a licence. Your licence is valid for twelve months from
the date of issue, although register offices do not take bookings
more than three months in advance. A Superintendent registrar is
legally bound to perform a ceremony for divorcees provided you can
produce your Decree Absolute.
You will find more information on the legal requirements to marry
in a register office in our article, Marriage
- Legal Requirements
The registrar usually shows you the marriage room when you 'give
notice'. As a general guide, most marriage rooms seat around 30
people and may have additional standing room. Bear in mind that
there can be as many as three ceremonies an hour taking place, particularly
on a Saturday, which is why you may not have time to decorate the
room or personalise your ceremony.
As with any type of ceremony and venue, there are no rules about
what a bride and groom should or should not wear, including choosing
a veil and white dress. Do make sure you check out the size of the
marriage room and how much space you have to manoeuvre before opting
for a full-skirted gown and voluminous train.
Parking for anyone other than the bridal party may be limited as
many register offices are in the centre of town and guests may need
to find parking arrangements nearby. It is always a good idea to
check this out first and include details with your invitations.
You are both required to arrive at least ten minutes before the
ceremony is due to start so that you can meet with the registrar
to confirm your details and pay the ceremony fees. In these days
of bogus marriages and asylum seeking, they actually have to check
that you really are the couple who are supposed to be marrying!
If you prefer not to see each other before the ceremony, then you
need to arrange beforehand to see the registrar separately.
Guests should also arrive at least ten minutes before the start
of the ceremony so they have time to be seated. The registrar's
assistant will tell them when it is time to enter the marriage room.
As with a religious wedding, the front rows should be reserved for
your bridal party, closest family or friends.
You then have a choice of how you make your entrance into the marriage
room. You can enter after the guests, either with your groom or
on your father's arm, or another person of your choice. Alternatively
you can both take your places before your guests come in.
Most register offices allow video cameras during the ceremony, but
the operator must not cause distraction from the proceedings or
the solemnity of the occasion. Many offices will not permit photography during the ceremony but are happy to allow photographs after the
signing of the register if there is enough time.