Opposite sex couples in the United Kingdom can marry in either a civil or religious ceremony.
Same-sex couples can marry in civil ceremonies, but they can only marry in religious ceremonies if the religious organization has agreed to marry same-sex couples. Same-gender couples are not permitted to marry in the Church of England or the Church of Wales.
Same-sex couples who marry in another country under foreign law are recognized as married in England and Wales.
On the Stonewall website, you can learn more about marriage for same-sex couples.
All couples can marry if they are both over the age of 18 and are free to marry, that is, if they are single, widowed, divorced, or were in a civil partnership that was dissolved.
If you are under the age of 18,
Marriage is not legal in England or Wales.
Before February 27, 2023, you could marry when you were 16 or 17 years old. You needed the permission of each parent with parental responsibility as well as any legal guardian. On GOV.UK, you can find out who has parental responsibility.
You might not have been able to obtain your parents' consent because you don't know where they are. Alternatively, your parents may have refused to give their consent for you to marry. If this was the case, you would have needed a court order to marry.
Your marriage is probably not legal if you did not have parental consent or court permission.
People who are transgender
A transgender person who has applied for and been granted full gender recognition by the Gender Recognition Panel can obtain a new birth certificate that reflects their new gender. They will then be able to marry someone of the opposite or same gender as their acquired gender in England and Wales. However, if a transgender person lacks a gender recognition certificate, they are legally considered to be the gender on their original birth certificate.
Who is unable to marry?
Some relatives are forbidden from marrying. If they do, the marriage will be declared null and void, even if they are unaware they are related. Any of the following relatives cannot be married:
a child (including adopted children)
a parent, which includes an adoptive parent
a sibling, including a half-brother or half-sister
a brother or sister of one's parents, including a half-brother or half-sister
a grandfather or grandmother
a child of a brother or sister, including a half-brother or half-sister
Adopted children, as well as their biological parents and grandparents, are not permitted to marry. If they do, the marriage will be declared null and void (see Marriages that are not valid), even if they are unaware they are related. Adopted children are not permitted to marry their adoptive parents, but they may marry the rest of their adoptive family, including their adoptive brother or sister.
People who are step-relatives or in-laws may marry only under certain conditions.
You should consult an experienced adviser, such as one at a Citizens Advice Bureau, for information on when step relatives and in-laws can marry. Click on nearest CAB to find information about your local CAB, including those that can provide advice via email.
Engagements are primarily for cultural reasons and have limited legal standing. They can, however, be used as evidence of intent to marry in immigration law.
Because a marriage contract cannot be legally enforced, one of the parties may decide to end the engagement. If an engagement is broken, a woman can keep the engagement ring unless the man specifically stated that it should be returned if the engagement is broken when she was given it. Any other property owned by the couple should be divided in the same manner as property would be divided if the couple divorced. If the couple cannot agree on property rights, either party may petition a court for a decision, provided that this is done within three years of the end of the engagement. Legal counsel will be required in these circumstances.
Pre- and post-marital agreements
A pre-nuptial agreement is a contract entered into before marriage that specifies how a couple's money and property will be divided if they divorce. A post-nuptial agreement is similar, but it is signed after the marriage.
Pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements can be legally binding unless deemed unfair by the court. Before entering into an agreement, you should seek legal counsel. On the Resolution website, you can find a solicitor.
Where can a wedding take place?
A wedding can take place in:
a Registration Office
a hotel that has been approved by the local authorities
a Church of England or Church in Wales
If both partners are Jewish, they can meet at a synagogue or any other private location.
a Meeting House if one or both partners are members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) or are affiliated with the Society through attendance at meetings
any registered religious structure (only in England and Wales)
a partner's home if the partner is housebound or detained, for example, in prison
a location where one partner is seriously ill and is not expected to recover, such as a hospital
a naval, military, or air force chapel
Same-sex couples can only marry in religious ceremonies if the religious organization has agreed to perform same-sex weddings and the premises have been registered for same-sex marriages. Individual ministers or religious organizations are not required to marry same-sex couples. Same-sex marriages are not permitted in the Church of England or the Church of Wales.
Local authorities in England and Wales may approve locations other than Register Offices for civil marriages. Applications for approval must be made by the building's owner or trustee, not the couple.
Private homes are unlikely to be approved because they are not usually open to the public. Stately homes, hotels, and civic buildings are likely to be considered appropriate. Open-air venues, such as moonlit beaches or golf courses, will not be approved. In general, the premises must be permanent built structures, though approval may be granted for a permanently moored, publicly open boat. Hot air balloons and airplanes will not be permitted.
If you want to get married in a venue approved by the local government, you should get a list from the town hall. You can search for approved premises in England and Wales on the GOV.UK website. Www.gov.uk is the official website of the United Kingdom.
How to Get Married
You can get married in either a civil or religious ceremony.
The following legal requirements must be met in both cases:
The marriage must be performed by or in the presence of a person who is authorized to register marriages in the district.
Both parties, two witnesses, the person who conducted the ceremony, and, if that person is not authorized to register marriages, the person registering the marriage must sign the marriage register.
Civil wedding ceremonies
Whether or not you intend to marry in that district, you and your partner must file a marriage notice with your local Register Office. If you and your partner live in different locations, you must both go to your respective local Register Office to give notice. The Superintendent Registrar then issues the marriage license, and you can marry in any Register Office or local authority-approved venue in any district.
Before a marriage can take place in England and Wales, the Register Office must be given 28 days notice. You must marry within 12 months of giving notice. Before notice is given, both partners must be residents of England or Wales for seven days. The location of the wedding must be specified in the notice. Giving notice costs money.
There is no need for the 28-day notice period if one of the partners has a gender recognition certificate and was previously the civil partner of the person they wish to marry. In this case, both the marriage notice and the wedding can take place on the same day.
Anyone with strong grounds for objecting to the marriage can do so between the notice of intention to marry and the ceremony. Falsifying information is a criminal offense.
Documents required to give notice
When you and your partner give notice of your intention to marry, you will be asked for certain information. If you or your partner are not citizens of a European Economic Area country, you must also provide proof of your immigration status when you give your marriage notice.
Falsifying information is a criminal offense. The following information may be required:
proof of name and address
evidence of birth date
If one partner has previously been married or in a civil partnership, documentary evidence that the marriage or civil partnership has ended, such as a death certificate or decree absolute, is required. Photocopies that are not certified are not accepted. A certified copy of an absolute decree can be obtained from the court that decided the divorce. This can take up to a week.
proof of nationality
A variety of documents can be used as proof of the required information, but a passport or travel document is usually sufficient. If you were born before January 1, 1983, you can also use your birth certificate. You should contact the register office where you plan to marry for more information on what they will accept.
GOV will tell you what documents you need to bring. UK
Visitors from other countries may be asked to show their passports. There is no legal requirement to show a passport before getting married; instead, they can produce a birth certificate (accompanied by a certified translation if necessary), an affidavit, or another form of personal identification.
If you're coming to the UK to marry an EEA or British citizen, or someone with settled status in the UK, you'll need a visa. The type of visa you require is determined by your nationality and the length of time you intend to stay in the UK.
If you are a non-EEA national who does not wish to reside in the United Kingdom, you may apply for a marriage visitor visa. This allows you to visit the UK for up to six months to marry.
If you’re a non-EEA national and you’re planning to live in the UK, you’ll need either:
If you are marrying a British citizen or someone with settled status in the UK, you will need a fiancé or proposed civil partner visa.
If you marry an EEA national, you will need a family permit.
People who want to marry in the UK must give notice at a Register Office in England and Wales. You can give notice if you are subject to immigration control at any Register Office in England and Wales. Everyone who wishes to marry in a Register Office must show proof of nationality.
If any of the following conditions apply, you will not be subject to immigration control:
You are a British citizen (or have right of abode in the UK).
You have no conditions attached to your stay in the UK because you are, for example, a diplomat or a member of the visiting armed forces.
You have indefinite leave to remain in the UK or settled status.
GOV.UK has more information on coming to the UK to marry. UK
If the registrar has reason to believe that a person is entering or has entered into a marriage for immigration purposes, the registrar is required to notify the Home Office. Certain information, such as the person's marital status and nationality, must be provided by the registrar to the Home Office. The Home Office may want to conduct additional investigations to ensure that the proposed marriage is not a "sham." In order to conduct these investigations, it may extend the notice period to 70 days. If you do not cooperate with the investigations, you may be barred from marrying. You also risk being prosecuted, and if you are the person subject to immigration control, the marriage will not benefit you and you may be deported from the UK.
What happens during the ceremony?
The marriage ceremony will last approximately 10-15 minutes in the local Register Office or on premises approved by the local authority. The Superintendent Registrar will make a brief statement about marriage; you can ask the registrar ahead of time which words will be used. Religious words or hymns are not permitted during the civil ceremony. However, readings, songs, or music containing references to a god may be included in the ceremony as long as they are in an 'essentially non-religious context.'
Each partner must repeat a standard set of vows. These may not be changed, but they may be supplemented as long as the additions are not religious in nature. Rings are optional but can be exchanged if the couple so desires.
Signing the marriage certificate
Following the ceremony, both partners and the registrar sign the marriage register. At the time of the marriage, two or more witnesses must also sign. Witnesses are not required to be a specific age, but you should inquire with the person marrying you to see if they have an age limit on who they will accept.
Witnesses must understand the ceremony's language and have the mental capacity to comprehend what is going on. Employees of the Register Office are not permitted to serve as witnesses.
Before signing the register, double-check the information in the entry. If there is proof that the errors were reported at the time of the marriage, it is possible to have incorrect information in the register on marriage certificates changed. When attempting to correct information later, you must explain in writing how the incorrect information came to be recorded at the time of the marriage and may be required to provide documentary evidence to prove any statements. The procedure could take a long time.
Paying the registrar fee
The ceremony must be paid for. For a fee, a certified copy of the entry in the register can be obtained at the time of the marriage. Additional copies are available for a fee.
Contact your local Register Office via GOV for fee information. UK
Religious wedding ceremonies
The Church of England and the Church of Wales are permitted to register marriages while performing religious ceremonies.
Unless you or your partner is a non-EEA national, you will not be required to notify the Register Office of your marriage. If this is the case, you must notify the Register Office within 28 days.
Other religious marriages must be announced to the Register Office 28 days in advance. Ministers and priests of all other religions can register marriages if they have a certificate or license from the local Superintendent Registrar. The approval is automatic for Jewish and Quaker marriages. If the official performing the ceremony is not authorized for any other religion, either a Registrar must attend the religious ceremony or the partners must have separate religious and civil ceremonies.
Marriages in the Church of England and Wales (only opposite sex couples)
Instead of going to the Superintendent Registrar before the ceremony, banns (a notice of the proposed marriage) can be read in each of the partners' parish churches and in the church where the marriage can be performed. Three Sundays before the ceremony, banns must be read.
In some cases, the vicar in England may advise you to apply to the Church of England for a licence rather than using the banns procedure. You can learn more about getting married in the Church of England by visiting www.yourchurchwedding.org.
Ceremonies both religious and civil
After getting married in a Register Office, a couple can have a religious marriage ceremony. The partners will almost certainly be asked to produce their marriage certificate.
If you want to marry outside of England and Wales, you must follow the legal procedures in that country.
If you or your partner are under the age of 18 and live in England or Wales, your marriage will not be legally recognized where you live.
If you married before February 27, 2023,
If you or your partner married when you were 16 or 17 years old, your marriage will be legal in England and Wales if you both:
met the minimum marriage age in the country in which you married
had parental permission or court permission to marry
Getting married in England or Wales if one of the partners lives elsewhere
If one of the partners is from Scotland or Northern Ireland, the wedding can take place in England or Wales, but certain procedures must be followed. If one of the partners lives outside of the United Kingdom, the marriage cannot take place until that partner arrives in England or Wales and meets the residency requirements.
Marriages in the United Kingdom are recognized in other countries.
Many other countries recognize a legally valid marriage performed in England or Wales. However, confirmation should be obtained from the embassy of the country in question.
A marriage by proxy occurs when one or both partners are unable to attend the ceremony in person. Marriages performed under UK law are not valid if performed by proxy. However, if both partners are 'domiciled' in a country that recognizes proxy marriages, United Kingdom law may consider a proxy marriage valid in some circumstances. The concept of 'domicile' is extremely complex. If you need to know whether a marriage by proxy is valid, you should seek legal counsel. On the Resolution website, you can find a solicitor.
A polygamous marriage occurs when a man marries more than one wife. A polygamous marriage between partners residing in England or Wales, one or both, is not valid. The concept of 'domicile' is very complicated and does not always imply 'living in' a country.
You should seek legal counsel if you have questions about the legality of a polygamous marriage. On the Resolution website, you can find a solicitor.
Certain marriages are treated as if they did not occur. These are known as void marriages. They are marriages that do not meet the legal requirements of the United Kingdom. A void marriage is one in which the partners cannot marry because they are related.
Some marriages may have met the requirements of UK law when they were formed, but they may later be annulled. These are referred to as voidable marriages. Marriages are voidable in a number of circumstances, including when one partner has been granted full gender recognition (see Transgender people), or when one of the partners did not give valid consent to the marriage because the consent was given under duress. Either partner may seek annulment, but if neither does, the marriage remains valid.
If you want to learn more about voidable marriages, seek professional help. On the Resolution website, you can find a solicitor.
Creating a legally binding marriage
If you were married in a way that is not recognized as valid in the United Kingdom, you can remarry under UK law as long as both you and your partner meet the requirements outlined earlier.
If you marry in the United Kingdom while already legally married, the marriage will be bigamous and thus null and void. Although it is a criminal offense to marry someone when you are already married, prosecution is not automatic.
If you are widowed, divorced, or were in a civil partnership that was dissolved, there is nothing that prevents you from marrying again in a civil ceremony in the UK as long as the legal requirements described earlier are met.
Religions have different rules regarding whether or not a person can remarry in a religious ceremony. If you or your partner has previously been married or was in a civil partnership that has now been dissolved and wish to have a religious ceremony, you must first consult with an official of the relevant religion.
Ceremonies of blessing
Even if you are not permitted to marry in a religious ceremony, for example, because you belong to a religion that prohibits divorced people from marrying, you may be able to arrange for your relationship to be blessed in a religious ceremony. This is entirely at the discretion of the religious official in question.
What exactly is a forced marriage?
A forced marriage occurs when you are coerced into marrying against your will. Your family may emotionally blackmail or physically threaten you. For example, your family may make you feel as if you are bringing shame on them by refusing to agree to the marriage.
It is not the same as an arranged marriage, in which both parties have a say and agree to the marriage.
It could also be a forced marriage if you lack the mental capacity to agree to it, such as if you have an illness that prevents you from making decisions. Even if you were not forced to marry, it will still be a forced marriage.
Forced marriage is a crime in England and Wales. If someone forces you to marry, they could face up to seven years in prison.
If you are under the age of 18, you are not required to be coerced into a forced marriage. It is a crime for someone to help you organize your wedding, such as booking your travel to the wedding.
The Forced Marriage Division
If you are concerned that you or someone else may be forced into marriage in the UK or abroad, you should seek advice from the Forced Marriage Unit. In an emergency, dial 999 for the police.
Forced Marriage Unit
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
King Charles Avenue
020 7008 0151 (Monday to Friday, 9 a.m.) 00am to 5 00pm)
Outside of business hours, dial 020 7008 1500 (ask for the Global Response Centre).
Send an email to [email protected].
Stop Forced Marriage: www.gov.uk/stop-forced-marriage
Protection Orders for Forced Marriage
If you are being forced into marriage or are already in a forced marriage, you can seek a Forced Marriage Protection Order from the county court.
A Forced Marriage Protection Order can prevent families from doing the following:
compelling you to marry
taking you abroad for your wedding
removing your passport
threatening you or using violence against you
directing others to do any of these things
It may also necessitate family members revealing your location. The police can also seek a Forced Marriage Protection Order. If someone violates the order, they are committing a criminal offense and could face up to five years in prison in England and Wales.
You should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. You may be eligible for legal aid. On the Resolution website, you can find a solicitor.
Karma Nirvana is a non-profit organization that assists victims of honor-based abuse and forced marriage. You can reach them by phone at 0800 5999 247 or by visiting the Karma Nirvana website.
GOV has more information about forced marriage. UK
How to Obtain a Copies of Marriage Certificates
The General Register Office in England and Wales can provide copies of marriage certificates. Its contact information is available on the GOV website. Www.gov.uk is the official website of the United Kingdom.
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The page was last reviewed on November 11, 2019
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