Register Office Weddings
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 building.
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
Preparing for a Register Office wedding
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.
What happens on the day
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.