Underneath all the fun of choosing a wedding dress, hiring a photographer and sampling your wedding meal, you mustn’t forget that there’s a legal side to getting married in the U.K. Your wedding won’t be legally valid if you don’t follow certain steps!
You must get married at an approved venue, and give your local authority notice that you’re intending to wed. There are legally binding vows that you must read in front of witnesses, and afterwards, you must sign the marriage certificate. Finally, there are certain authorities that you need to inform of your updated marital status.
Today, we’ll talk you through everything you need to do in order to get married legally. Please note that this guide applies only to weddings taking place in the U.K. If you are planning to get married elsewhere, different rules may apply.
1. Choose an Approved Wedding Venue
The first step to getting legally married in the U.K. is to choose where you’re going to do it. You can’t get married just anywhere. The venue must be an ‘approved premises’ in order to host a wedding ceremony.
This may be:
1) A religious building, such as a church or chapel, if you’re having a religious ceremony
2) Registry office or licensed venue, such as a hotel, if you’re having a non-religious (civil) ceremony
The gov.uk website has a list of approved premises for marriage. If you’re having a civil ceremony, and the venue you’re considering isn’t on this list, then it is not allowed to hold a legal wedding ceremony in the U.K.
However, you can always have an unofficial wedding ceremony at an unlicensed venue, and then go to a registry office to get legally married afterwards!
Only the wedding ceremony itself needs to take place at venue with a marriage license. There are no restrictions on any other parts of the celebration, such as the wedding breakfast or the evening reception.
This means that you could have your wedding ceremony at one location, and then travel to another venue for your reception. Many people, for example, get married at their local registry office, and then go to a hired hall or hotel for a buffet and dance.
If you are a same-sex couple, you may not be able to get married in certain religious buildings, such as Anglican churches.
2. Give Notice to Marry
The next step is to give notice of your marriage. This means you have to sign a legal statement declaring your intent to wed.
When you give notice, you must state where the wedding will take place. The marriage will only be licensed to take place at the venue specified on the notice of marriage. So, be sure to book your venue before you give notice to marry!
There’s a very specific time frame in which you must give notice: between 28 days and 12 months before your wedding. If you’re too early or too late, your wedding won’t be able to go ahead.
You must give notice at your local register office, in the council area you live in. This applies even if you’re getting married in a different part of the country. This must be done face-to-face, and both you and your partner must be present.
Visit the website of your local council, and you’ll find details about how and where to give notice to marry. You’ll have to book an appointment, and bring with you:
1) The name and address of your venue
2) A valid passport or UK birth certificate for both people getting married
3) Proof of your address, such as a utility bill or tenancy agreement
4) Proof of any past name changes (if applicable), such as a copy of a deed poll
5) Proof of your divorce (decree absolute or final order), or your former spouse’s death certificate, if you’ve been married before
If you or your partner is from outside the UK, you’ll need to provide additional documents. Your local authority will be able to specify what these are.
Unfortunately, giving notice of marriage isn’t free – there’s a small fee. This fee may differ depending on where you’re from, and from year to year. Again, your local council’s website will have this information.
3. Book an Authorised Registrar
If you are having a religious wedding, the religious leader will conduct your ceremony. You won’t usually have to book this person separately – they’ll come part and parcel with your venue. They may be a vicar, a priest, a rabbi, or any other kind of religious leader.It’s important to note that not all religious leaders are legally authorised to conduct marriages in the U.K. You’ll have to check whether yours is. If they’re not authorised, you’ll have to attend a separate civil ceremony in a registry office for the marriage to be legally valid. You can do this before or after your religious service. If you are having a civil (non-religious) wedding, you’ll need to hire a registrar (also called an officiant or celebrant) to marry you. This is the person who will conduct the service, pronounce you legally wed, and sign the marriage register.
Depending on your venue, they may be able to book the registrar for you. If not, you’ll have to choose and book one yourself. This will cost you a small fee.
The person who conducts your civil ceremony and signs the marriage register must be registered with the Registrar General. It can’t be just anyone! Your local authority will be able to guide you in finding an approved registrar.
4. Decide on Your Legal Vows
To legally get married in the U.K., you must exchange vows. And not just any vows – you must recite legally-approved vows, with specific wordings, during your wedding ceremony. For civil ceremonies, you must recite ‘declaratory words’ and ‘contracting words’.
The first is a statement that there aren’t any legal reasons why you can’t be married.
You have 3 options:
1. “I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I [your name] may not be joined in matrimony to [their name]”
2. “I declare that I know of no legal reason why I [your name] may not be joined in marriage to [their name]”
3. Answer “I am” to the question “Are you [your name] free lawfully to marry [their name]?”
The contracting words are like a promise of marriage.
Again, there are 3 options:
1. “I call upon these persons here present to witness that I [your name] do take thee [their name] to be my lawful wedded husband/wife”
2. “I [your name] take you [their name] to be my wedded husband/wife”
3. “I [your name] take thee [their name] to be my wedded husband/wife”
The registrar will read these vows for you to repeat. You don’t need to memorise them. All you need to do is decide which options you’d prefer – 1, 2 or 3 – and then inform your registrar of your choices.
You can, of course, write your own personalised vows too. You can read these vows before or after your legal vows (usually before). In civil ceremonies, you’re not allowed to make any religious references in your vows or readings.
If you’re having a religious ceremony, the rules are slightly different. There are still legally binding vows that you’ll have to take, but these will differ depending on which kind of religious ceremony it is.
5. Choose Your Witnesses
You are legally required to have two witnesses at your wedding (aside from the registrar, yourself and your partner). This applies even if you’re eloping or having a registry office wedding. It’s the witnesses’ job to be present for your ceremony and to sign the marriage register afterwards.
The two witnesses must:
1) Have the mental capacity to understand what is taking place
2) Understand English (or whatever the language the ceremony is being conducted in)
3) Not be registry office staff members
Your witnesses don’t have to be adults. However, they must be old enough to understand what they’re witnessing, and sign their name. Your venue or registrar may have a ‘house rule’ – for example, they may insist that your witnesses are over the age of 16.
Your witnesses can be absolutely anyone that meets the above requirements. They might be your parents, your friends, your cousins. Traditionally, most couples pick the best man and the maid of honour. Whoever you choose to be your witnesses, ask them in advance so that they know what’s expected of them.
6. Sign the Marriage Certificate
So, you’ve given notice, and read your legal vows at your authorised venue, at a ceremony conducted by an authorised registrar. The only thing left is the signing of the register. This is where you, your partner, the registrar and your two witnesses will sign the marriage certificate.
This may take place in your ceremony room, or another room at the venue. Your photographer won’t be allowed to take a photo of your real marriage certificate, or of you signing it. If you’d like, though, you can pose for a staged photo with the register opened to a blank page.
The registrar will give you an official copy (or several copies, depending on how many you’ve paid for) of your marriage certificate. Now you’re legally wed!
7. Inform the Necessary Authorities
You are now married, in the eyes of the law. There’s only one last step, and that’s to inform the necessary authorities. The following organisations will need to know of a change in your marital status:
2) Universal Credit
3) Child Benefit
You might also have to inform certain insurance companies. For example, you’ll need to tell your home insurance company if your new husband or wife is moving in with you.
If you are changing your name, you will also have to inform banks, loan companies, the DVLA, your doctor and dentist, landlord or mortgage provider, and any other institution that knows you by your old name (such as online accounts). You will also need to get a new passport if you’d like to start travelling in your married name. After that, you’re all done, and free to enjoy wedded bliss!