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The Legalities of Getting Married

This page guides you through all the steps you need to follow in order to become a married couple.

Eligibility for marriage

Any couple can get legally married in England and Wales, so long as they are:

  • 16 years old or older (although if you are under 18 you will need parental consent)
  • Single, divorced or widowed
  • Not closely related, including half-sisters or half-brothers (you can also not marry half-sisters or half-brothers of your parents, or children of your half-sisters or half-brothers)

As of March 29 2014, this includes same-sex couples. For the most part the rules are the same as for heterosexuals, except that certain venues will not hold same-sex marriages. You should make sure that the building has been registered for the marriage of same-sex couples, and that it is permitted by the religious organisation, if applicable. Besides this, our information on how to get married is equally valid for same-sex marriages.

Note that you can get married in Scotland without parental consent if you are under 18. Same-sex marriage became legal in Scotland on December 17th 2014.

We also have a separate page specifically on registering civil partnerships.

What you need to do

The process of getting married is relatively straightforward. The first thing you need to do is to give notice at your local register office. This must be done whether you intend to hold a civil or religious ceremony, with the exception of Anglican church ceremonies.

However, you only have to give notice 28 full days before you hold your wedding ceremony, but in order to do this, you must have lived in the registration district of the register office for at least the preceding seven days.

You must also give notice at a designated register office if either you or your partner is not from the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and therefore subject to immigration control.

Coming to the UK to get married

If you intend to get married to either a UK national or someone settled in the UK and plan to remain in the country thereafter, you will need to apply for a family or settled person visa to come as a fiancé(e). If you are planning on staying for less than 6 months, you can apply for a marriage or civil partnership visitor visa.

If both you and your partner are from outside the EEA and Switzerland and want to come to the UK to register a marriage, you can apply for a Marriage or Civil Partner Visitor visa as long as you plan to leave the country within six months of arrival.

However, if your partner is from the EEA or Switzerland but is a permanent UK resident and has a document certifying permanent residence you can apply got a family or a settled person visa.

If your partner does not have a document certifying permanent residence and is not a permanent UK resident then you can apply for a EEA family permit to accompany and join your partner in the UK. You will need to prove that you and your partner have lived together in a relationship for at least 2 years.

You must give at least 28 days' notice when applying to the register office.

Making an appointment at the register office

You can contact your local register office to make an appointment to give notice. When you go you will need to take a number of documents with you as proof of your name, age and nationality. You will need at least two of the following:

  • Passport
  • Birth certificate
  • Driving licence
  • National identity card
  • Immigration status document

The registrar will also need to see a document with your address on it, for example a gas, water or electricity bill or a bank statement. If you’ve been married before then you will also need your decree absolute or final order if you are divorced, or your former partner’s death certificate. Each partner must pay a fee of £35 when giving notice - this may be more if you are from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland.

Arranging a wedding ceremony

You have the choice between arranging a civil or religious ceremony. Religious ceremonies can be held at a church, chapel or other registered religious venue.

Civil ceremonies can take place at a register office or other venue approved by the local authority. However it is also possible to have a civil ceremony at a religious venue, as long as you have permission from the religious organisation and the premises have been approved by the council.

Civil ceremonies must not have any religious content, e.g. hymns or bible readings.

Vital ingredients of a ceremony

You must exchange some form of vows during the ceremony to get married. One of three prescribed sets of vows must form part of what you say, but you can add your own words to this – if you want to use your own wording you should discuss this with the organiser beforehand.

You must have at least two witnesses present at the ceremony and the marriage register must be signed by both you and your partner as well as two witnesses.

Obtaining your marriage certificate

On the day of the ceremony the marriage certificate will cost £4. It will cost £10 if you acquire it at a later date. You will also have to pay £46 for the registration of the marriage if you get married in a register office, and possibly more if you marry at a different venue.

To get a copy of your marriage certificate after the ceremony you can apply to the register office in the district where the marriage took place if you married within the last 18 months. Otherwise you can apply online to the General Register Office on their website.

As well as acting as proof of your marriage, this certificate will enable you to change your surname without the need for a deed poll.

Getting married abroad

If you get married abroad, your marriage should be recognised in the UK, provided you adhere to the local laws in the country where your ceremony is taking place. In some cases you may be asked to obtain certain documents from the UK government, who have created a Getting Married Abroad tool to help you find out what is required based on where you plan to get married, your nationality and that of your partner.

Prenuptial agreements

A prenuptial agreement, or prenup, is a contract made before marriage to protect the assets of each person in the result of a divorce. This can be seen as favourable to trying to arrange financial settlements when the marriage has broken down, when things can sometimes become unpleasant.

Prenups are often entered into for a variety of reasons, which include one party being wealthier than the other, one party having excessive debt, or a party giving up their job to look after children.

Prenuptial agreements are not generally considered legally binding in the UK. The court still has the power to make an order in divorce that provides for a division of the matrimonial assets which is different from that provided for within a prenup. However, in the landmark case of German heiress Katrin Radmacher and ex-husband Nicolas Granatino the judge ruled that the prenuptial agreement be upheld. This ruling means that prenups are now likely to hold considerable weight in court.

Prenups should only contain information about financial matters in order for them to stand up in court. Legal advice should be sought before entering into a prenup to ensure that it is fair to both parties involved, as fairness is the key consideration the court will look into when assessing a prenup.

Having sought legal advice will also make a prenup look stronger in court, as it will satisfy the requirement that the parties to the agreement fully appreciated what they were entering into.

A prenup should be made at least 21 days before a marriage as any less time may be used as evidence of duress.

It is important that a prenup is reviewed regularly to ensure that new factors in the relationship (such as the birth of a child) can be added. The agreement becomes weaker as time passes, as circumstances can change dramatically over the years.

The future of prenups

In February 2014, the Law Commission made the recommendation to the government that prenuptial agreements should become legally binding, under the name of ‘qualifying nuptial agreements’.