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David Hodson on International Family Law: Farewell to British cruising

Date:26 OCT 2011

David HodsonAs a Sotonian born and bred, of the city of Southampton, I express my huge sadness today that Cunard shipping company is no longer registered as a British shipping fleet, especially registered out of the Port of Southampton as it has been for many decades. The sadness is aggravated for me as an international family lawyer because the apparent reason given is that Cunard want to undertake weddings on board their ships and cannot do so under English law if they are British registered.

English marriage law is very historic, going back to Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753, brought in to overcome many sham marriage practices, dishonest priests and dubious solemnisation of relationships. To overcome the past problems it went out of its way to create openness and transparency in the organisation of the wedding, being found in features such as the public giving of notice, the reading of the banns, the requirement for weddings to take place only in certain registered premises, during the hours of daylight etc. One requirement as part of this openness and transparency was that there should be public accessibility to the place of the wedding. And this cannot occur on board ship. Forget for this purpose the romantic Hollywood notion of being married by the captain in full naval regalia. For a conventional marriage according to English law, the public must have access.

Marriage in exotic locations, the so-called weddings in Paradise, are big business. Many shipping lines offer weddings on board cruise boats. Cunard do not wish to lose out and cannot offer these weddings whilst they are British registered. Hence the decision taken, as I understand it, to leave the formal British registration of their ships after more than a century and take on registration from Bermuda, a British overseas territory. This means that the ships can still fly the red Ensign. Weddings will be recognised in this country.

There has been great dismay across Hampshire and amongst our country's shipping fraternity.

Cunard will still be based in Southampton, probably England's premier home of its Merchant Navy (although Liverpool may not agree!). The ships will still treat Southampton as their home. But in the interests of getting married on the high seas, the name of Southampton will very sadly now disappear from the Cunard fleet.

No longer will the Queens sail down Southampton Water bearing the name of Southampton on their stern. A very historic day and regretful event. Bon voyage.

David Hodson is a Partner at The International Family Law Group LLP. He acts in complex family law cases, often with an international element. 

He is an English specialist accredited solicitor, mediator, family arbitrator, Deputy District Judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, High Court, London and also an Australian qualified solicitor, barrister and mediator. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and author of A Practical Guide to International Family Law (Jordan Publishing, 2008). He is chair of the Family Law Review Group of the Centre for Social Justice. He can be contacted on dh@davidhodson.com.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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