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Marriage in the UK

Are you looking forward to celebrating your marriage in the UK? Congratulations! But before you can enjoy your special day, you must take care of the practical issues. Our expat guide explains what to keep in mind: from general requirements, over same-sex partnerships, to spouse visas, and more.
Before you rush off into your honeymoon, marriage in the UK requires cutting though a bit of red tape!
  • If you are a British citizen, getting married in the UK is fairly straightforward — but there are still legal requirements that you must fulfill.
  • While same-sex marriage is now legal in England, Scotland and Wales, in Northern Ireland it is still banned. Civil partnerships are allowed across the whole of the United Kingdom.
  • You must keep visa restrictions in mind at all times — when does a fiancé visa become a spouse visa? Do you need a family visa?

Different traditions concerning marriage in the UK have become popular around the world. For example, brides in various countries now wear “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue” on their wedding day.

Marriage in the UK, however, is less of a quaint custom than a legal act that requires some essential preparations. But don’t worry: You still have the opportunity to lend your personal touch to your marriage in the UK, be it with traditional wedding customs or personal innovations.

The Basics: What You Need to Know

As far as the bureaucratic aspect of marriage in the UK is concerned, there are several things to take into account.

Firstly, celebrating your marriage in the UK is dependent on your nationality. If you are a foreigner with immigrant status (aka “subject to immigration control”), you have to jump an extra hurdle or two, e.g. for a UK visa. As a British citizen or a national of an EEA country, you simply have to check if you fulfill all legal requirements for a valid marriage in the UK, decide between a religious ceremony and a secular wedding, and give official notice in advance.

There are minor regional differences for marriage in the UK, with regulations varying between England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. We will try to point out such regional peculiarities below.

Same-Sex Marriage in the UK: A Split Nation

If you are in a same-sex relationship and would like to get hitched in the United Kingdom, same-sex marriage used to be impossible. For this reason, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 was passed. It applies to the entire UK, allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into a civil partnership. In most aspects, though not in all, a civil partnership is similar to a secular heterosexual marriage in the UK.

A law to allow same-sex marriage across England and Wales was put into effect in March 2014, and Scotland quickly followed suit, legalizing same-sex marriage in December 2014. Since the law was changed in 2014, over 15,000 marriages have taken place. In Northern Ireland, however, same-sex marriage remains illegal, despite numerous legal challenges. Civil partnerships are valid across the whole of the UK, though.

In the Eyes of the Law

If you have British citizenship or are a citizen from a country within the European Economic Area (including Switzerland) who is currently residing in the UK, preparing your wedding is not that difficult. Just take the following steps prior to your civil partnership ceremony or marriage in the UK.

Please make sure that all the legal requirements for a binding marriage in the UK (or a civil partnership) apply to you:

  • You and your partner should be 18 years of age or older.
  • Persons aged 16 to 18 need written permission from their parents or their guardian before they can enter into a civil partnership / marriage in the UK. However, this written permission is unnecessary for a marriage ceremony performed in Scotland.
  • You and your partner may not be related by consanguinity, affinity, or adoption. This means, among other things, that a person is unable to get married to / become a civil partner of a sibling, a parent, a former partner’s child, or an adopted parent.
  • If you and/or your partner were previously married or in a civil partnership, you need to have proof that all such former relationships were legally ended by death, divorce, dissolution, or annulment.
  • Both you and your partner understand the consequences, rights and responsibilities of a marriage / civil partnership and willingly consent to it.

Keeping Them Informed: Giving Notice

Provided that all legal requirements are satisfied, you have to give notice of your impending marriage in the UK at the local register office.

  • You need to give notice of your marriage in the UK at least 28 days prior to the ceremony.
  • In England and Wales, you have to go to the register office and give notice in person, whereas you can send in an official form by mail in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In that case, both partners must fill in a separate form.
  • In England and Wales, you also must have lived in the neighborhood for at least a full seven days before going to the nearest register office. This is not necessary in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
  • When giving notice for your marriage in the UK, you must bring the following documents: proof of identity and nationality, proof of residence, a birth certificate, and (if applicable) some document proving that you are legally free to (re-)marry or (re-)enter into a civil partnership.
  • The fee for giving notice is £22 to £35 per person, depending on the part of the UK where the register office is located.

Despite the relatively short notice period of 28 days, you should take care to give notice well ahead of the actual wedding date. In this way, you have got enough leeway in case of unexpected difficulties. You will thus be able to get the permission for your civil partnership or marriage in the UK (the “marriage license”) in time.

At the Register Office

Once you have given notice of your wedding plans, you should contact the register office or any other officially licensed venue where you want to have the ceremony. For the wedding, you need two witnesses aged 16 or older.

While the ceremony for a secular marriage in UK or a civil partnership must not include any religious content, you can talk to the official performing the ceremony beforehand. They will help you and your partner to include personal speeches, individual wedding vows, or other elements unique to your wedding day.

The secular ceremony for marriage in UK also requires paying a fee. It may amount to as little as 46 GBP or as much as 180 GBP, according to the respective region and the day of the week. Sunday weddings in Northern Ireland are apparently the most expensive. For your marriage / civil partnership certificate, you then have to pay another small fee. Now your marriage in the UK will be legal and binding.

 

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