Marriage in England and Wales

Marriage in England and Wales has undergone in a sea change in recent years with the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014. For a marriage to be legally recognised, the Marriage Act 1949 sets out various requirements to be complied with.

What makes a marriage valid?

The following legal requirements must be met for a marriage in England and Wales to be valid:

  • You must be at least 18 years of age; or 16 or 17 but have your parents’ consent to marry
  • Before the marriage ceremony, you must give the priest, minister or registrar official documentary evidence showing your name, age and nationality, the decree absolute if you are divorced, or the death certificate of your late spouse

  • You will need to produce your passport to prove your nationality
  • The marriage must be conducted by, or in the presence of, a person authorised to register marriages in the district
  • The marriage must be entered in the marriage register and signed by each spouse and two witnesses (as well as the Registrar)
  • You must give the required notice before the ceremony

What notice must we give?

You must give notice of your intended marriage. If you intend to have a religious ceremony in the Church of England, or the Church in Wales, you need to follow their procedures of publishing banns (a proclamation) on three successive Sundays before the marriage. Banns (or common licences) are recognised in law. However, if you are intending to enter into a same sex marriage, you cannot at present marry in the Church of England.

In all other cases, you must go to your local register office to ‘give notice of marriage’. This notice will state your name, age, whether you have been married before, and your address, occupation, nationality, and where you intend to marry.

You must have lived in the registration district for at least seven days immediately before giving notice at the register office. Once you have given your notice, there must be a sixteen-day waiting period before the marriage can take place.

When and where can I marry?

Anyone who is not Jewish or a Quaker is allowed to marry between 8am and 6pm in an Anglican church (Church of England or Church in Wales), or in any church, mosque, temple or other places of religious worship that is licensed for weddings. You can also marry in a local authority register office or in a building licensed for weddings by local authority under the marriage Act 1994. However, same sex couples cannot marry in the Church of England.

If I get married abroad, will this be recognised?

A marriage that is conducted abroad is recognised in England and Wales if it complies with the rules of eligibility. If in doubt, check with the Home Office.

Are any marriages prohibited?

The law prohibits marriage between what are known as ‘forbidden degrees of relationship’. The prohibitions apply to illegitimate as well as legitimate relationships. So a man cannot marry his mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, granddaughter, father’s sister, mother’s sister, grandson’s wife, brother’s daughter or sisters’ daughter. Similarly, a woman may not marry her father, son, brother, grandfather, grandson, mother’s brother, father’s brother, granddaughter’s husband, sister’s son or brother’s daughter.

If you remain unsure of your rights in relation to your marriage or impending marriage, contact your local registrar for clarification and advice.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.