Getting married abroad, what could go wrong?


It is reported that as many as one in four couples are now getting married abroad; tempted by more reliable weather, lower cost and a combined ceremony and honeymoon. 

Whilst a wedding on a white sandy beach seems idyllic, it may not necessarily follow that the marriage is recognised in England. 

A wedding abroad can cause many problems if the marriage ever breaks down. Famously, Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall were married in a ceremony on the Indonesian island of Bali in 1990, but a long legal battle prompted by their split nine years later ended in a court ruling that the union was legally invalid.

The financial provision that can be made for married couples on divorce varies dramatically from the provision for unmarried couples.

So, how do you know if your foreign marriage is recognised here? There is no requirement to register a foreign marriage in England after the event.

Foreign Marriage

The law governing the formal validity of a marriage entered into abroad is not the law of England and Wales but rather the legal requirements of the country in which the marriage was entered into. The general rule is that if the formalities of the marriage complied with the law of the place in which the marriage took place, the marriage is valid, even where it does not comply with the requirements of English law.

For example in some countries, customary marriages take place. Even though such ceremonies can lack any kind of formality or paperwork, if the marriage is recognised in that country as valid then it will be recognised in England too. Even polygamous marriages where there are multiple husbands or wives can in certain circumstances be recognised here if they are legal in the country where the ceremony took place.

With regard to civil partnerships for both homosexual and heterosexual couples, a relationship between two people which meets the general conditions of and is registered with a responsible authority outside the UK is recognised here too.   

Foreign Divorce

Foreign divorces are recognised in England as well as long as the divorce/dissolution was legally obtained and one or both of the parties was living in the country at the time that the divorce was granted. Unlike marriages, there has to be a degree of formality in obtaining the divorce — for example Muslim and Jewish divorces obtained informally are not recognised.

It is even possible for people who have been married and divorced abroad to make an application to the English courts for financial relief if they have a connection with England and Wales if they have suffered hardship by reason of the foreign divorce.

More information

If you would like any advice regarding the issues raised in this articles please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist family solicitors.

This article was written by Louise Eady, Senior Associate in the Family Law Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of December 2019.


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