Wedding laws soon to be modernised


Five years since first requested, The Law Commission is now working on proposals to reform wedding laws, aiming to make marriage more accessible and bring the laws in line with the modern couple.The Coalition Government requested a review of the current laws back in December 2014 and the Law Commission undertook a preliminary review and determined the need for reform. A full review leading to reform of how and where couples can be married in England and Wales will now be considered, the aim of the reform will be to make getting married a lot more accessible and easier for couples today. ​

Current Wedding Law

The current laws require either a religious or civil label. This is the main issue for couples with marriage, as this limited choice has not kept pace with modern society. If a marriage today is not either religious or civil then it is not valid, equally, if the wedding is not carried out at a registered or religious venue the wedding is not legal.

One of the major restrictions on marriage currently is that the place of marriage is limited by laws made in the 1940’s. Currently a marriage will usually take place at one of the following venues:

  • A Church building
  • Naval, Military or Air Force chapel
  • Registry Office
  • Local Authority approved premises i.e. a Hotel or Manor House
  • a registered building that has been certified as a place of worship and for marriage (other than Church of England and Wales)

This means that marrying on the beach, in your own garden or at a local park is usually out of the question. The majority of respondents to the consultation were in favour of changing the law to allow legally valid non-religious belief marriage ceremonies to take place, in unrestricted locations.

Future Wedding Law

It is expected that the final report will take two years to be completed and intends to consider the following:

  • Where a wedding should be able to take place, and whether there should continue to be limitations on this
  • The legal requirements of the couple before a wedding
  • How any marriage should be registered
  • Whether there needs to be specific wording used during the conduct of the ceremony
  • Who should be able to solemnise a wedding ceremony
  • What happens if couples do not comply with the law

Law Commissioner, Professor Nicholas Hopkins, said “The Law Commission believes that modern law of marriage should allow couples to get married in the way they want and in a place that is meaningful to them, while continuing to recognise the interests of society and the state in protecting the status of marriage.”

He said of the need for a review “The law of marriage in England and Wales is now out of date, inconsistent and overly restrictive. Our modern society deserves a clearer set of rules that gives all couples greater choice and certainty, while providing protection from the abuses involved in sham and forced marriage.”

The Family Law Team will be monitoring the progress of this review and hope that positive change is forthcoming in the near future. We would be happy to advise clients on how to proceed with any marriage plans in light of these expected changes.

More information

Our specialist family lawyers are recognised in Tier 1 Legal 500 with excellent reputations and invaluable experience. We provide clear and practical advice for all situations. To book a free initial Family Law consultation please contact our Family Law Team.​

This article was written by Jennifer Herbert, 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 August 2019.


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