Marriages In Northern Ireland
This article should be read in conjunction with our articles on minimum age and parental consent and prohibited marriages. If you have been married before, you may also find our article second marriages helpful. If you are domiciled outside the United Kingdom, you will find information in our documents to be produced section below on the additional documentation you will need to bring with you.
If you wish to marry in Northern Ireland, you may do so either by civil or religious ceremony. Marriages can only take place in authorised premises where a marriage can be legally solemnised. Venues include register offices and churches that have been registered by the Registrar General for marriage. 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 registrar of marriages or an authorised person (for example, an authorised vicar or priest) and be witnessed by two competent people.
Church of Ireland
Marriages according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of Ireland may take place by publication of banns, licence, special licence or by a registrar’s certificate.
Publication of banns, which simply means announcing your intended marriage by being read aloud, is the traditional and preferred method used by most couples. Banns may be published where both of you are members of the Church of Ireland or other Protestant Episcopal Church. The banns must be published in the church of the parish in which you live. If you live in different parishes, banns must be published in both parishes. Seven days notice to the minister(s) may be required and publication must be made on three Sundays or Feast days before the date of your marriage. Your marriage ceremony must take place in the church (or one of the churches) in which the banns have been published.
A licence is available from a Church of Ireland licensing minister for a marriage in a church within your district provided that either of you are members of the Church of Ireland, or other Protestant Episcopal Church. One of you must be resident for at least seven days within the licensing minister’s district immediately before giving notice of your intended marriage. The residence of your partner is immaterial. You must give notice to the licensing minister seven days before the grant of the licence. The licensing minister will then send copies of the notice to the clergy in the places of worship normally attended by you both.
Immediately before the granting of the licence, one of you must make an oath or declaration which includes a clause to the effect that one of you has lived for the past fourteen days within the district attached to the church in which you intend to marry. The name and address of a licensing minister may be obtained from any Church of Ireland clergyman.
A special licence may be granted by a Bishop of the Church of Ireland, provided one or both of you are members of that church, or other Protestant Episcopal Church. Your marriage may then take place at any time or place within the Bishop’s diocese. The fee payable is fixed by the church authorities.
A registrar’s certificate authorising your marriage in a church may be obtained when one or both of you are members of the Church of Ireland. To obtain a registrars certificate, you need to fulfil the necessary civil preliminaries. One of the you must also have resided for fourteen days before your marriage within the district attached to the church in which you intend to marry.
You will be guided by your minister as to the most suitable method for you to follow according to your particular circumstances.
Presbyterian Church Marriages
Marriages according to the form and discipline of various Presbyterian bodies may take place by licence, special licence or by publication of Banns. The governing bodies concerned are: the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Remonstrant Synod of Ulster (Non-subscribing), the Presbytery of Antrim and the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Ireland.
A licence authorising your marriage in a church within a presbytery may be obtained from a licensing minister appointed by the presbytery, provided that one or both of you are Presbyterian. One of you must give notice of your marriage to the Presbyterian minister of the congregation of which you have been a member for the past month. The minister will then issue a certificate confirming that notice was given, which the party must produce to the licensing minister seven days after receipt of the certificate. The licensing minister will then issue the licence authorising the marriage.
Immediately before the granting of the licence, whoever gave notice must make an oath or declaration which includes a clause to the effect that one of the parties has lived for the past fifteen days within the presbytery.
A special licence authorising your marriage at any time and at any place in Ireland may be granted by the Moderator of one of the governing bodies mentioned to which one or both of you belong. The fee payable is fixed by the church authorities.
Banns may be published where both of you are Presbyterians in the presence of the congregation of which they are members. If both of you are members of different congregations, banns must be published in each church. Six days notice of your marriage must be given to the minister and publication must be made on three Sundays before your marriage, which must take place in a church (or one of the churches) in which the banns have been published.
Roman Catholic Church Marriages
The procedure for marriages according to the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church, where both of you are Roman Catholics, is in general regulated by the laws of that church. Information on the steps to be taken should be obtained from a Roman Catholic clergyman. However, the following provisions in connection with marriages in Roman Catholic churches are provided for in the Irish Marriage Acts.
A licence may be obtained from a licenser appointed by a Bishop. It may be issued for your marriage in a Roman Catholic church in cases where both of you are Roman Catholics, or where only one of you is a Roman Catholic. In this case, notice must be given to the licenser seven days before the issue of licence. The Licenser will then send copies of the notice to the clergyman of the places of worship where both of you regularly attend.
A registrar’s certificate may authorise a marriage in a Roman Catholic church within the registration district between a Roman Catholic and a person who is not a Roman Catholic. This method is not available if both parties are Roman Catholics. To obtain a registrars certificate, you need to fulfil the necessary civil preliminaries.
Other Church Marriages
Marriages according to the customs of other religious bodies such as Baptists, Brethren, Congregationalists, Free Presbyterians, Methodists, Salvation Army, Jews and the Society of Friends etc, may take place by: registrar’s licence (except for Jews and the Society of Friends); by registrar’s certificate or by special licence (certain religious bodies only). The procedure you need to follow are those for a civil ceremony in a register office. For some denominations, the registrar must be present at your marriage ceremony. In such circumstances you are advised to agree the proposed time and date of your ceremony with the registrar well in advance before finalising arrangements with you church. Further information about this may be obtained from the registrar.
A special licence is available to Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists and members of the Society of Friends. A special licence may be granted by the President of the Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland, the Secretary of the Conference of the Methodist Church in Ireland or the Clerk of the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends in Ireland provided that one or both of you are members of the same church as the authorised person who grants the special licence. A fee is usually payable to the religious body concerned and the amount is decided by that body. Marriages by special licence may be celebrated at any time and at any place in Ireland.
Marriages according to the customs of Jews may take place only by registrar’s certificate but need not be celebrated within the district of residence of either party.
Register Office (Civil) Marriages
A registrar of marriages is legally authorised to perform civil marriages. There is a registration office attached to each of the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland. The address of your local registrar can be found in the telephone directory under
‘Registration’. Civil marriages can take place in a register office by either a registrar’s certificate or by a registrar’s licence. The marriage of house-bound or detained persons can be arranged on the authority of a licence issued by the Registrar General.
Marriages by Certificate
A registrar’s certificate authorises your marriage to take place in a register office or in a church or other registered building in the registration district, provided that at least one of you lives in that district. A registrar’s certificate can be issued subject to meeting the following requirements: If both of you live in the same registration district, notice may be given by either of you. If you live in different districts, you must both give notice to the registrar of the district in which you live. Both of you must have lived in your respective districts for at least seven days immediately before giving notice. After 21 clear days from the date you gave notice, the registrar will issue the certificate. If you gave notice in different districts, a certificate will be issued by each registrar.
Marriages by Licence
A registrar’s licence authorises your marriage to take place in a register office or in a church or other building registered for marriages in the registration district. It is more expensive to get married by licence but the process is a little quicker. A registrar’s licence can be issued subject to meeting the following requirements:
If both of you live in the same registrar’s district, then one of you must have lived there for at least fifteen days and your partner for at least seven days immediately before notice is given to the registrar of that district. Notice may be given by either of you.
If you live in different districts, you must give notice to the registrar of each district and both of you must have lived in your respective districts for fifteen days immediately before giving notice. The registrar of the district where your marriage is to take place must have received the certificate from the registrar of the other district before he issues the licence.
The registrar, seven clear days after you have given notice, and after administering an oath or declaration to one of you, will issue your licence. The oath or declaration includes a clause to the effect that one of you has resided within the district in which you intend to marry for fifteen days immediately before the granting of the licence.
Whether you plan to get married by certificate or licence, if your marriage is to be held in a church, the registrar will send copies of the notice to the ministers of the places of worship you usually attend, and to the minister of the church where your marriage is to be held, if different.
Marriages by Registrar General’s Licence
The Registrar General can issue a licence allowing you to marry where one of you is either house-bound or detained as a prisoner or as a patient under the Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986. With a Registrar General’s licence, your marriage can be solemnised at the residence of whoever is house-bound or detained. Notice of your marriage must be given by one of you to the registrar of the district in which the marriage is to be solemnised. If you live in different districts, you must give notice to the registrar of each district. A registrar will visit a detained person to take notice. A Registrar General’s licence cannot be issued for a marriage between two people professing the Roman Catholic religion, the Jewish religion or according to the customs of the Society of Friends.
When you give formal notice of your marriage, the Registrar may require evidence that you have met the necessary residency requirement. This will certainly be the case if you normally live outside the registration district in which you plan to marry or if you are domiciled outside the United Kingdom.
Please note, it is not legally possible to get married in Northern Ireland without meeting the necessary residency requirements detailed above. If you make a false statement as to residency or any other details given when completing your notice of marriage, you are liable to be prosecuted for perjury.
If you do not live in the registration district in which you plan to marry, you should write to the register office where you will be giving notice of your marriage and provide details of your itinerary and intended marriage date. The Registrar will then confirm that your arrangements are satisfactory (from a timing point of view) and will make an appointment for you to give formal notice and also a provisional booking for your marriage ceremony. When you arrive in the registration district, you should immediately arrange to meet with the Registrar to confirm your booking and to discuss any other arrangements that need to be made.
Documents to be Produced
When attending before a registrar or church minister to give formal notice of your marriage, you will need to produce certain documents. If your birth certificates are readily available it will be helpful if they can be produced. If you are under the age of 18, a consent form must be completed by your parents or legal guardian. If you have been previously married, you will need to produce documentation or evidence of the death of your former spouse or the dissolution or annulment of your marriage. If you are a widow or widower, you must produce the death certificate of your former spouse. Photocopies of your documents are not acceptable unless certified to be a true copy by the issuing authority. If any of your documents are in a foreign language, a certified translation in English is required.
If you are domiciled outside the United Kingdom, there are additional requirements for you to fulfil. Firstly, when you give formal notice of your marriage, you will need to produce your official travel or identity document such as your passport. You will also need to obtain from your own marriage registration authority a certificate of no impediment to marriage, which will state that you are free to marry. Please note that a certificate from a lawyer will only be accepted as a last resort since lawyers do not have access to marriage records. If the certificate is in not in English, a certified translation is also required.
In the absence of a certificate of no impediment to marriage without good reason, it may not be possible for you to get married in Northern Ireland. If you are in any doubt about what is required, contact the Registrar of the registration district in which you intend to marry. You are strongly advised to fax over your documents for approval before making your journey to Northern Ireland.
For further information and advice about getting married in Northern Ireland, please contact the registrar of marriages in the registration district in which you plan to get married. Alternatively, you can telephone the General Register Office on 028-9025 2000. You can write to the General Register Office at Oxford House, 49-55 Chichester Road, Belfast, BT1 4HL, Northern Ireland.
If you still have any unanswered questions about the legal requirements of getting married in Northern Ireland,please post your question on our Wedding Forum.
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