Marriage In England And Wales

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This article should be read in conjunction with our articles on minimum age and parental consent and prohibited marriages. You may also find our article on second marriages helpful.

Marriages can only take place in authorised premises where the marriage can be legally solemnised. Venues include register offices, premises that have been approved by the local authority (for example, stately homes, castles and hotels), churches or chapels of the Church of England and Church in Wales, and other churches that have been registered by the registrar general for marriage including naval, air force and military chapels. The marriage of house-bound and detained persons can also be arranged by obtaining a special licence from the registrar general.

All marriage ceremonies must take place in the presence of a superintendent registrar or an authorised person (for example, an authorised vicar or priest) and be witnessed by at least two competent people, who will be required to sign the marriage register. With the exception of Jewish and Quaker ceremonies and ceremonies authorised by a registrar general’s licence, the marriage must take place between 8am and 6pm.

Getting Married by Civil Ceremony

If you wish to marry by civil ceremony in a register office or other building approved for civil marriage, you should first contact the superintendent registrar of the district where you wish to marry and discuss any arrangements that need to be made. You can get married at any register office or approved venue of your choice in England and Wales without having to set up residence in that district. The term used for the commencement of civil marriage proceedings is called ‘giving notice’.

Both of you must have lived in a registration district in England or Wales for at least seven days immediately before giving notice at the register office. If you both live in the same district, you should both attend your local register office together to give your notices of marriage. If you live in different registration districts then each of you will need to give notice separately in your respective district. After giving notice you must wait a further sixteen days before the marriage can take place, (for example, if notice is given on 1 July the marriage may take place on or after 17 July).

Your marriage cannot go ahead unless the legal formalities have been completed.

Notices of marriage must be given in person to the superintendent registrar by you and your partner. No one else can do so on your behalf.

Where an advance booking for a marriage has been made, it is essential that a formal notice is given to the superintendent registrar, once you are legally able to do so.

Registration Officers have a statutory duty to report any marriage they suspect has been arranged for the sole purpose of evading statutory immigration controls.

There are nationally set fees for giving notice to the superintendent registrar and the registrar’s attendance at the marriage at a register office or religious building. However, the fee for the attendance of the superintendent registrar and registrar at a marriage in an approved premises (for example, at a hotel) is set by the local authority. The superintendent registrar of the district where you wish to marry will be able to provide you with details of the fees payable.

On the day of the wedding you will need to bring with you at least two other people who are prepared to witness the marriage and sign the marriage register.

If you wish to know more about marriage ceremonies at register offices or at approved premises please ask the superintendent registrar for details. While a marriage ceremony in the presence of a superintendent registrar cannot, by law, contain any religious aspects, it may be possible, with agreement, to include non-religious music and/or readings and for the wedding to be videoed.

This information is issued for general guidance and is not a complete statement of the law. For further information on any aspect of the formalities to, or the ceremony of marriage, please seek the advice of the superintendent registrar at the local register office. The telephone number and address can be found in your local telephone directory under ‘Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages’.

How far in advance can I make my booking?

A notice of marriage is valid for twelve months. However, you may be able to make an advance (provisional) booking with the superintendent registrar of the district where you wish to marry. The superintendent registrar will be able to give you more precise information on this.

Register Office Hours

Although you can get married on any day of the week between 8am and 6pm, most register offices are only open from 10am-4pm Monday to Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturdays. If you wish to get married outside register office hours (but within the permitted hours), you will have to arrange your ceremony to take place at a licensed venue (an approved premise). Please read the next main section below on civil marriages at licensed venues or visit our main article on licensed venues.

Giving Notice at a Register Office

Each party to the marriage will need to attend at the register office in person and give notice of their intention to marry. This will be the case even when you live in the same registration district. You will not have to attend together but will be encouraged to do so. To arrange to meet with a superintendent registrar, you should telephone or write for an appointment. You may be asked to produce documents as evidence of name and age, usually in the form of passports, birth certificates, ID cards etc. This list is not exhaustive and other documents may also be acceptable. If you have been previously married, you will be required to provide evidence of the termination of that marriage by either death, divorce, or nullity.

Collecting your Certificate of Authority to Get Married

If you are not getting married at the register office where you gave notice, you will need to collect your Certificate of Authority to get married so that it can be given to the person solemnising your marriage. The registrar will prefer that you personally collect your certificate. However, the registrar will post it to you, or send it to the venue where you are getting married, if you make a written request.

Further Information

For further information or clarification on legal civil marriage issues in England and Wales, please telephone the marriages section of the registrar general for England and Wales on 01704-569824. Alternatively, you can write to them at Smedley Hydro, Trafalgar Road, Southport, PR8 2HH, England.

For the details of your nearest register office use the search facility on the General Register Office website or look under ‘Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages’ in your Phone Book.

Civil Marriages at Licensed Venues (approved premises)

Since April 1995, it has been possible to arrange for civil ceremonies to take place at certain venues other than a register office. These other venues are officially known as approved premises but are more commonly known as licensed venues. Buildings such as hotels, castles, stately and country homes can now be licensed to allow civil marriage ceremonies to take place on their premises.

The marriage ceremony at a licensed venue is a civil ceremony. No religious content whatsoever is allowed. However, your ceremony can be more romantic and leisurely than in a register office and it can be as formal or casual as you wish. With the permission of the attending registrar, it is possible to enhance the standard civil ceremony by having your own choice of non-religious music, poetry and prose readings and for your ceremony to be photographed or videoed. It is also possible to have your own choice of vows and promises that have a special meaning to both of you, although these will be in addition to the statuatory declaratory and contracting words that are required to be said by both of you for your marriage to be legal.

The legal requirements for getting married at a Licensed Venue are the same as those for getting married by civil ceremony at a register office but with the added requirement of having to arrange for a registrar’s attendance at your venue. Please note, you do not need to give formal notice of your marriage to the superintendent registrar of the registration district in which the approved premise is situated (unless you live in that registration district). However, after making a provisional booking of your chosen venue, you should immediately contact the local superintendent registrar since his attendance is required for the solemnisation of your marriage. Once you have booked the superintendent registrar, you can then confirm your booking at you chosen venue.

L licensed venues can take advantage of the full period of time allowed for marriages to be solemnised. That is, on any day between 8am and 6pm (including Sundays, Public and Bank holidays). This is of course subject to arranging for the local superintendent registrar and assistant registrar to be present.

For additional information about getting married at an approved premise and for details of obtaining a full list of all the approved premises in England and Wales, please read our main article Licensed Venues.

Statutory Declaratory and Contracting Words

All civil marriage ceremonies and religious ceremonies other than Church of England, Jewish or Quaker, must incorporate statutory declaratory and contracting statements, to be said by both of you, for your marriage to be lawful. The registrar will usually suggest that the following traditional statements are used:

Declaratory Words

I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful
impediment why I, [your full name], may not be
joined in matrimony to [your partner's full name].

Contracting Words

I call upon these persons here present to witness that I,
[your full name], do take thee, [your partner's full name],
to be my lawful wedded wife [or husband].

However, since February 1997, you may choose to use either of the following alternative declaratory and contracting words:

Alternative Declaratory Words

I declare that I know of no legal reason
why I, [your full name], may not be joined
in marriage to [your partner's full name].
or
by replying ‘I am’ to the question
‘Are you, [your full name], free lawfully
to marry [your partner's full name]‘.

Alternative Contracting Words
I, [your full name], take you, [your partner's full name],
to be my wedded wife [or husband].
or
I, [your full name], take thee, [your partner's full name],
to be my wedded wife [or husband].

When giving notice of your marriage, you will be able to discuss your choice of declaratory and contracting words with the superintendent registrar or your religious celebrant. Generally, if you do not mention this matter, the traditional statements will be used.

Church of England and Church of Wales Marriages

Marriages in the Church of England and Church of Wales are governed by the Marriage Act, 1949. If you wish to be married in either Church, you should first arrange to see your parish priest to discuss your marriage.

As the established church, the Church of England gives all British citizens, with no former partner still living, the right to get married in the parish church where they are resident or in the church where either of the couple are on the church’s electoral roll (not the local register of electors) – see below.

Couples can also now elect to be married in a parish church to which they have a qualifying connection; this can be one or more of the following:

  • one of them was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish;
  • one of them has ever lived in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of them has at any time regularly attended public worship in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of their parents has lived in the parish for six months or more in their child
  • one of their parents has regularly attended public worship there for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • their parents or grandparents were married in the parish.

You do not have to be a regular churchgoer to get married in the Church of England or Church in Wales, neither must you have been baptised. Both Churches welcome the opportunity for you to make your solemn promises to each other not just in front of your family and friends but also in the sight of God and with God’s blessing. There are four ways of getting married in accordance with the rites of the Church of England:

  • by publication of banns
  • by common licence
  • by special licence issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury
  • by the authority of a superintendent registrar’s certificate without licence

You will be guided by your parish priest as to the most suitable method for you to follow according to your particular circumstances. If you are British subjects living overseas, you should ask your parents or a friend to see the priest of the parish in which you lived on your behalf.

1.Publication of Banns

Publication of banns, which simply means announcing aloud your intended marriage, is the traditional and preferred method used by most couples and is equivalent in timing to the civil method of getting married by certificate. The banns are published by being read aloud during the service on three successive Sundays preceding the ceremony. The congregation is invited to register objections, if they have any. It is usual for the couple to be in attendance on at least one of the three occasions when the banns are published.

If the couple live in different parishes or are getting married in a parish other than the one in which they are registered, the banns need to be published in both parishes. A certificate stating that the banns have been published will be issued by the church that will not be holding the ceremony. This certificate needs to be produced to the officiating minister before the ceremony can proceed. If the marriage does not go ahead within three months of the banns being published, the banns will have to be published again.

2. Marriage by Common Licence

Getting married by common licence is intended for persons who are temporarily resident in a particular parish and is equivalent in timing to the civil method of getting married by certificate and licence. It has the advantage of not requiring banns to be published. Once your application has been approved by the bishop of the diocese in which you wish to marry (or by one of his surrogates), only one clear day’s notice is required before your ceremony can take place. The only residence requirement is that at least one of you must have lived in the parish during the 15 days leading up to your application for the licence. To be married by common licence, at least one of you must have been baptised. A common licence lasts for three months from its date of issue.

There must be a good reason for requesting a common licence, for example, an imminent and unavoidable departure overseas that prevent your banns from being read. A common licence is usually applied for by British couples who are no longer resident in England or Wales or if one or both of the couple are not British subjects. If you are living overseas and you will not be visiting your home parish before you plan to get married, you should ask your parents or a friend to see your minister on your behalf for advice on how and where the licence may be obtained. If neither of you are British subjects, you should contact the registrar of the Court Faculties on 020-7222 5381 for further guidance. Their address is, 1 The Sanctuary, London, SW1P 3JT.

3. Marriage by Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Licence

Marriage by special licence is very unusual and it must be approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The licence is issued from the registrar of the Court Faculties in London. If granted, a special licence allows a marriage to take place at any time within three months and in any place without any residence requirement. Typical reasons for getting marriage by special licence include if one of you is very ill in hospital and cannot be removed to a venue where marriages can be legally solemnised. To be married by special licence, at least one of you must have been baptised.

In certain circumstances, a special licence may also be issued to couples living overseas, particularly if one of both of you had close links with the church in which you intend to marry. The benefit of getting married by special licence is that there is no residency requirement. However, the issue of a special licence is at the discretion of the Archbishop of Canterbury and it may well be that you will be advised to get married by common licence where at least one of you must meet the residency requirement of 15 days. A special licence will be refused if neither of the couple is able to demonstrate a genuine and long standing connection with the church in question.

A special licence is also required if you want to get married in a building not licensed for marriage. Interestingly, when a member of the Royal Family gets married in St. Paul’s Cathedral, a special licence is required since St. Paul’s is not registered for marriages.

For further information on getting married by special licence, you should contact the registrar of the Court Faculties on 020-7222 5381. Their address is, 1 The Sanctuary, London, SW1P 3JT, United Kingdom.

4. Marriage by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate without Licence

The final method of getting married in accordance to the rites of the Church of England, is by the authority of a superintendent registrar’s certificate without licence. However, this method is for the marriage of qualifying relatives-in-law (see prohibited marriages for further information). If this method is approved, the church where your marriage is to take place must be located in the same registration district as the register office that issues the certificate. Furthermore, one of you must have lived in the parish for seven days prior to giving notice. Twenty-one clear days after giving notice, a certificate of authority to get married will be issued. The marriage must take place within 12 months from the date your notice was entered in the notice book.

Marrying at a Church Which is Not Your Local Parish Church

You can marry at a church which is not your local parish church only if you can prove a qualifying connection to the church in question. This can be any of the following:

  • one of them was baptised or prepared for confirmation in the parish;
  • one of them has ever lived in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of them has at any time regularly attended public worship in the parish for six months or more;
  • one of their parents has lived in the parish for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • one of their parents has regularly attended public worship there for six months or more in their child’s lifetime;
  • their parents or grandparents were married in the parish.

You can also marry in a parish church which is not your own if it is your usual place of worship and you are listed on the church’s electoral role. To qualify for enrolment, at least one of you must have regularly attended that church for worship for a minimum period of six months. It is also a requirement for enrolment that the person is a baptised member of the Church of England. The church electoral roll should not be confused with the local register of electors.

Marriage of Divorcees – with former partner still alive

Although a minister of the Church of England does have a legal right under civil law (by virtue of his role as a registrar) to take a marriage service, regardless of whether or not either of the couple is a divorcee, each case will be taken on its merits after discussing the circumstances that led to the separation and divorce. In many cases, parish priests are obliged to conform to their bishop’s policy of not allowing divorcees (with their former partner is still alive) to remarry in church.

If your parish priest refuses to marry you, there is no process of appeal. Priests are also within their rights to refuse to allow their church to be used for this purpose by another ‘sympathetic’ priest. Furthermore, it is not possible for divorcees to search for another church where there may be a priest prepared to take the service.

Weddings on a Sunday

There is no legal reason why you cannot get married on a Sunday in a church. However, it is usually not possible because the minister’s day is too full with Divine service.

Weddings During Lent or Advent

It is common practice for ministers to refuse marriages during Lent, and often during Advent. Lent is the period of time leading up to Easter Sunday and is traditionally the time when Christians abstain or take up something that spiritually or physically cleanses the mind or body. Advent is the 24 day period leading up to Christmas day.

Further Information

For further information and advice about getting married in a church of the Church of England or Church in Wales, you should arrange to see your minister. Alternatively, you can telephone the Enquiry Centre of the General Synod of the Church of England on 020-7898 1000. Their address is Church House, Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3NZ.
For more details about The Church of England, please see their website: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/lifeevents/weddings/
For information on second marriages in the Church of England or Church in Wales, please read our article second marriages.

Roman Catholic Marriages

If both of you are Roman Catholic, the publication of banns goes ahead as normal but they do not form part of the legal preliminaries. If only one partner is Roman Catholic, banns are not published and the priest of the Roman Catholic partner will have to give permission for the marriage to take place either in a Roman Catholic church or a non-Roman Catholic church.

The legal requirements to be fulfilled for a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony are those that apply to civil marriages. However, if the church is in a different registration district to where you live, you need to prove to the superintendent registrar that the church is your normal place of worship. If you cannot do this, you will be required to give notice in the registration district in which the church is situated after having met the necessary residency requirement.

For further information you should talk to your priest. Alternatively, you can contact the following Catholic Church organisations:

For general advice about preparing for a Roman Catholic marriage, contact:   

Marriage Care,
1 Blythe Mews,
Blythe Road,
London,
W14 0NW.
Tel: 020-7371 1341

For other help and information, contact:   

The Catholic Enquiry Office,
The Chase Centre,
114 West Heath Road,
London,
NW3 7TX.
Tel: 020-8458 3316
Fax: 020-8905 5780
For advice when the partners are practicing members of different churches, contact:

Association of Interchurch Families,
35-41 Lower Marsh,
London,
SE1 7RL.
Tel: 020-7620 4444
Fax: 020-7928 0010

Jewish Marriages

Civil law allows Jewish weddings to take place anywhere, for example, in a synagogue, private house, hired venue or even outdoors. Rabbinical law requires that a Jewish ceremony is performed under a chuppah (a wedding canopy). Jewish ceremonies can also take place at any time except on the Sabbath (Saturday) and on festival or fast days.

The legal requirements to be fulfilled for a Jewish wedding ceremony are those that apply to civil marriages. However, if the synagogue is in a different registration district to where you live, you need to prove to the superintendent registrar that the synagogue is your normal place of worship. If you cannot do this, you will be required to give notice in the registration district in which the synagogue is situated after having met the necessary residency requirement.

If there is no synagogue in the registration district in which you live, you will be permitted to marry in a synagogue in the nearest registration district that has one (subject also to the approval of the synagogue secretary).

If the secretary of the synagogue is not licensed to keep a marriage register, a superintendent registrar will need to attend the ceremony. Arrangements should be made well in advance if this is the case. An addition sum will also be payable for the registrar’s attendance. For further information and advice please telephone the Jewish Marriage Council at 23 Ravenhurst Avenue, London, NW4 4EE. Tel: 020-8203 6311, Fax: 020-8203 8727.

Nonconformist Church Marriages

Marriages in Protestant Churches other than the Church of England, follow similar procedures to marriages in the Roman Catholic Church. The legal requirements to be fulfilled are those that apply to civil marriages. However, if the church is in a different registration district to where you live, you need to prove to the superintendent registrar that the church is your normal place of worship. If you cannot do this, you will be required to give notice in the registration district in which the church is situated after having met the necessary residency requirement.

If there is no church of your denomination in the registration district in which you live, you will be permitted to marry in a church in the nearest registration district that has one.

A superintendent registrar will need to attend the ceremony if the minister is not authorised to register marriages. If the church in which you intend to marry is not registered for the solemnisation of marriages, you must arrange for a civil ceremony beforehand to comply with the requirements of the law

Quaker Marriages

Quaker marriages require an application to be made to the registering officer at the Society of Friends’ monthly meeting where the marriage ceremony is to take place. If only one partner is a member of the Society, the other will be asked to state that they are in sympathy with the nature of the marriage and they must provide letters of recommendation from two other members. Once the formalities have been completed, the registering officer will issue a form that needs to be taken to the superintendent registrar when you give notice.

The legal requirements to be fulfilled are those that apply to civil marriages. However, if the building in which you wish to marry is in a different registration district to where you live, you need to prove to the superintendent registrar that the building is your normal place of worship. If you cannot do this, you will be required to give notice in the registration district in which the building is situated after having met the necessary residency requirement.If there is no building in the registration district in which you live, you will be permitted to marry in a building in the nearest registration district that has one.Once you have obtained your certificate of marriage from the superintendent registrar, you will need to produce it on the day of the marriage ceremony.For further information and advice please contact the Religious Society of Friends at 173-177 Euston Road, London, NW1 2BJ. Tel: 020-7663 1000.

Muslim, Hindu and Sikh Marriages

UK marriage laws allow for mosques and temples to be registered for the solemnisation of marriages according to the rites of these religions. The legal requirements to be fulfilled are those that apply to civil marriages. However, if the building in which you wish to marry is in a different registration district to where you live, you need to prove to the superintendent registrar that the building is your normal place of worship. If you cannot do this, you will be required to give notice in the registration district in which the building is situated after having met the necessary residency requirement.

If there is no building in the registration district in which you live, you will be permitted to marry in a building in the nearest registration district that has one.

A superintendent registrar may also need to attend the ceremony. If the building in which you intend to marry is not registered for the solemnisation of marriages, you must arrange a civil ceremony beforehand to comply with the requirements of the law.

Documents to be Produced

When you attend before a superintendent registrar or a church minister to make the formal arrangements for your marriage, you may need to produce certain documents, for example, proof of identity such as your passport or birth certificate. If you have been married before, a decree absolute of divorce or if you are a widow or widower, the death certificate of your former spouse. If one of you is under 18 years of age, the written consent of your parents or guardian will be required. If you are marrying a step-relative or an in-law, you will need to provide relevant death certificates and/or other documents requested by the superintendent registrar or minister. Should any of the above documents be in a foreign language, you will need to provide a certified translation in English. If you are unable to provide any of the required documents, the superintendent registrar or church minister will advise you what other documents are acceptable.

If you are not a UK citizen, you will also need to produce your passport. Documentary evidence, such as your travel documents, may also be required to demonstrate that you have met the necessary residency requirement.

Please also note that if you were previously married and your divorce was in a court outside the UK, you will not be allowed to get married in England or Wales until the superintentent registrar has verified your divorce. This process can take up to six weeks.

The above information was correct at the time of updating. Please check with your registrars office or relevant authorities for current information.

If you still have any unanswered questions about the legal requirements of getting married in England and Wales, please post your message on our Wedding Forum.

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