Family, Children & Education
Getting Married in the UK
Religious Marriage Ceremonies
A religious ceremony is mostly possible only for heterosexual couples in the UK. If you want to be married by a member of the Anglican clergy in the Church of England or the Church of Wales, it may not be necessary to involve the local register office. The vicarage usually takes care that your marriage is legally valid and officially recognized. However, if you want to make sure, you can follow up on the process by getting in touch with the register office after your wedding.
Practicing believers of other faiths should talk to the person in charge of marriage ceremonies at their place of worship. Depending on the stance of the relevant religious organization, they might have decided to opt in religious ceremonies for same-sex couples. (The Anglican Church has not.) However, according to the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act 2013, religious associations are explicitly exempt from having to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. They can do so, if they want, but the act refers solely to marriage as a secular, civil institution.
If you are planning a religious ceremony, you usually have to live in the same district as the place of worship. You also have to give formal notice at the register office, as described on the previous page.
Legal Rights and Responsibilities
The legal consequences of a valid marriage or civil partnership are more or less identical for heterosexual and same-sex couples. This (mostly) equal treatment extends to a broad range of legal issues, e.g.:
- property rights
- inheritance taxes and bereavement benefits
- employment benefits
- most UK social security benefits (though there may be financial differences in pension schemes)
- duty to provide maintenance for your partner and any children of the family
- ability to apply for parental responsibility for your partner’s child
- tenancy agreements
- protection from domestic abuse
- next-of-kin rights in hospital
- recognition for immigration purposes
All these areas will be affected once you get married or enter into a civil partnership. Once the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act enters into force in 2014, couples in civil partnerships can also have their status changed to “married” in England and Wales.
Same-sex couples, like unmarried couples regardless of sexual orientation, can also file for joint adoption of a child in England, Scotland, and Wales, as long as they meet the other criteria of the adoption process (e.g. British citizenship or the right to reside permanently in the country). In Northern Ireland, the situation is rather different. In June 2013, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that same-sex couples in civil partnerships should be able to adopt children, but opponents of this verdict might try for an appeal in the Supreme Court. So far, the legal situation remains unclear.
Non-EU Nationals with Immigrant Status
Speaking of immigration purposes: What does “subject to immigration control” mean and how does it impact your right to enter into a marriage / civil partnership in the UK?
If you are “subject to immigration control”, British authorities consider you an immigrant and treat you accordingly. You have to put up with far more red tape before you can get married or enter into a civil partnership in the UK.
As mentioned on the first page, you are not “subject to immigration control” if one of the following criteria applies to you:
- You have British citizenship.
- You are a national of an EEA member state (including Switzerland).
- You are a close family member of an EU national already staying in the UK.
- You have “settled status” in the UK, i.e. official permission to stay in the country indefinitely.
- You have a “certificate of entitlement” in your passport that gives you the right to live in the UK.
But if you don’t fall into these categories, getting married in the UK means having to face a few additional obstacles. If you do not live in the UK yet, you need a visa first.
Fiancé(e) Visa for Visitors
If you live abroad, merely want to have your marriage / civil partnership ceremony in the UK and then leave the country again, you can apply for a “fianc(é) / proposed civil partner visitor entry clearance”. In short, this is a special type of visa that allows you to come to Great Britain or Northern Ireland and get married there.
You and your future partner need to be at least 18 years of age. If you also fulfill the following requirements, you can apply for this special visa at the nearest British embassy or consulate.
- You don’t intend to stay in the UK for more than six months.
- You can show that you intend to leave after this period.
- You don’t want work in the UK.
- You don’t plan to attend school or university.
- You can finance yourself and have enough money for your return journey.
- You don’t come to the UK for private medical treatment.
- The UK is not a transit country for another journey.
However, if you don’t intend to stay in the UK, you should be aware that civil partnerships or marriages for same-sex couples may not be recognized in your home country or your next destination.
A different kind of “fianc(é) / proposed civil partner entry clearance” is commonly known as a “spouse visa”. It allows you to enter the country and stay in the UK after you got married. However, it is harder to obtain than a visitor visa for getting married in the UK.
To qualify for this spouse visa, you need to meet the following criteria:
- You are at least 18 years old.
- You have a partner (aged 18 or older) who is a British national or has settlement status in the UK.
- You have met your partner in person.
- You are planning to get married within six months
- You are legally free to marry, re-marry, or enter into a civil partnership.
- You intend to live together with your partner
- You have English language skills.
- You have an income of at least £18,600. This requirement can be covered by your partner’s income, too.
After the ceremony, your “spouse visa” is usually valid for another six months. You then need to apply for permission to remain as a husband, wife, or civil partner. If granted, this permission is valid for two years. You are now officially allowed to take up gainful employment.
At the end of these two years, you can apply for “Indefinite Leave to Remain”, provided you are still married. This procedure will grant you the right to stay in the UK for as long as you want. Until a few years ago, non-EU nationals wishing to get married and live in the UK were required to apply for a Certificate of Approval from the Home Office. However, this measure was abolished in 2011.
But as a foreign national who is “subject to immigration control”, there is still one thing to keep in mind: You and your partner must give notice of your planned marriage together. Moreover, you can only do so in person, and at certain designated register offices, in England and Wales.
Changing Your Name
Now that your marriage or civil partnership is official, you may think about changing your name. There are several options for couples in the UK.
- Both partners keep using their previous family names.
- One partner decides to take the other’s name.
- One partner chooses to use his/her previous surname as a middle name.
- Both partners use a double-barred name, e.g. Smith-Jones or Pond-Williams.
In some of these cases, the name change may require a so-called Deed Poll. This is a legal document binding one or both partners to use their new name exclusively from now on. Please ask the register office, as well as a specialist agency or solicitor, for advice. If you are an expat and want to return to your home country at some point, you should also find out if the planned name change will be valid there.