Location, location, location: marriage reform anticipated

Posted by Laura Bennett on
The Law Commission produced a scoping report yesterday, reporting that the existing marriage law is "unnecessarily restrictive and outdated and fails to serve today's diverse society".

Currently, to be married or form a civil partnership in England and Wales you must be:

  • aged 16 or over;
  • single, divorced or widowed; and
  • not closely related to the person you intend to marry.

The parties must give notice of their intention to marry at a registry office at least 28 days in advance of the ceremony.  There are different rules if you wish to marry outside England and Wales and for some religious ceremonies.  Full advice can be found on the government website and the person carrying out your ceremony will be able to give you specific advice about the venue.

Once you have given notice, you can be married in either a civil or religious ceremony.  A religious wedding can take place at a church, chapel or other registered religious building.  A civil ceremony or civil partnership can take place at a registery office, any venue approved by the local council such as a stately home or hotel or a religious premises where permission has been given by the organisation and the premises approved by the local authority.

I am a huge fan of the popular BBC programme 'Don't Tell the Bride.'  Some of my favourite episodes have included the couples being married at Stoke City Football Club, in a treehouse, at a deserted airbase and at the Eden project.  However, the venues that the ceremony takes place in are not always appropriately registered and in those cases the couple have to have a separate ceremony after the programme to comply with the legal formalities. 

The Law Commission have identified that this is an area of the law that is ready for reform.  Professor Nicolas Hopkins, Law Commissioner for property, family and trust law has said ""The Law Commission believes that a modern law of marriage should allow couples to get married in the way they want and in a place that is meaningful to them".

I fully support the suggestion that this law should be reformed.  Just as there has been a growth in the number of parents choosing a humanist 'Naming Ceremony' in favour of religious christenings or baptisms, I believe that couples who wish to be married in a location that is special and unique to them should be able to do so.  Getting married at a football club might not be every bride's venue of choice (in fact, I seem to recall that she was rather unhappy about the whole thing, but that's the risk you take when appearing on 'Don't Tell the Bride'!), but if it is their choice then I do not see why that ceremony should be considered less significant than a ceremony which takes place in a registered building.

About the Author

Photograph of Laura Bennett

Laura is a Senior Solicitor in the Family team based in Oxford.

Laura Bennett
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01865 258052

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