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But we are married? Aren’t we?

Date:14 AUG 2017
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Family law expert, Lawyer

Stala Charalambous is a family law expert

The Financial Remedies Handbook is the first resort for thousands of matrimonial lawyers by combining a clear explanation of the applicable legal principles with straightforward advice on practice and procedure.

This new edition for 2017 has been thoroughly revised and contains detailed analysis and practical guidance on all recent case-law and procedural developments.

The 11th edition is available to order here.

‘With this ring I thee wed…’, but did you? ‘I want a divorce’, but are you legally married?

Weddings are a great time to celebrate, but couples should take care to ensure that if they want to be married to their partner, that the wedding ceremony is legally recognised and valid in the land (country) where it takes place. Otherwise, they could find that their beautiful wedding day was just a memory and wishful thinking. This could have serious, detrimental financial consequences should the relationship ‘turn sour’ or in the  event of the death a partner. It can also affect a father’s parental responsibility for a child. If unmarried, the father will not have automatic parental responsibility for a child. He will need the other parent’s agreement or a court order.

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Clients often ask the question, ‘I live in England but married abroad, can I divorce in England?' The answer is ‘yes’ provided the wedding was conducted in accordance with the laws of that country where the marriage took place, so as to make a valid marriage in that country at the time it was made.

If however, you live in England, and you have what you believe is a wedding, but that wedding was not conducted in accordance with what England requires for it to be a valid marriage, or if the wedding was conducted in a place which is not recognised as being one that can carry out valid marriages in England, or if the ceremony was conducted by an unauthorised official, then your ‘marriage’ will not be recognised as a valid one in England.

Parties must comply with the Marriage Act 1949 otherwise the marriage may be void.

What are the steps to be taken for a valid marriage in England and Wales?

The government has a useful website which sets out the requirements for marriages and Civil Partnerships in the UK.

Unless you are getting married in an Anglican Church and are both British Citizens or from the EEA (Economic European Area), or Switzerland, you need to give notice to your local register office (usually at least 28 days before the wedding) of your intention/wish to marry. If you wish to marry in an Anglican Church, you need to give notice of your wish/intention to marry to your local Anglican Church. The authorised person officiating the ceremony in the Anglican Church will register the marriage and issue the marriage certificate. Do check whether your local Anglican Church is willing and able to conduct the marriage ceremony for you. Do not assume that the Church you would like your marriage to be conducted in, will automatically agree to do so.                                                                                                           

Notice of your intention to marry will be published. Once you give notice of your intention to marry, the wedding should usually take place within 28 days either in a Civil Ceremony in the Registry Office or other place authorised to conduct a civil marriage ceremony, or a religious ceremony at a church, or other registered religious building registered to conduct religious marriage ceremonies.                                                                                                        

Before attending to give your ‘notice’ of intention/wish to marry at your local register office or Anglican Church that has agreed to conduct the ceremony, check what documents and information is required by them. Usually, they will need to see evidence of who you are and where you live so do provide proof of your name, age place of residence and nationality. Check if photo ID is required.

  1. Both parties intending to marry should be of a legal age to marry, which is 16 in England with parental consent and 18 without parental consent; 
  2. The marriage must be of your own free will, so neither party intending to marry should feel forced or under any pressure to marry;
  3. You should be free to marry, ie not have any other lawful impediments to marry; so you should be single, divorced or widowed. If you are a widower take the death certificate of your previous spouse. If you are divorced, you must be able to show the decree absolute document. If you cannot locate this, a further copy can be obtained from the court that issued it or if you do not know the court you can make an application to the Central Family Court in London. A fee will be payable for a further copy of the decree absolute. If you do not have the decree absolute, and require it urgently, you should seek independent legal advice as to whether an application can be made to expedite the decree absolute being issued. Judges can make an order that decree absolute be expedited, but you must have a good reason why you are seeking this, as judges will not automatically grant this;                                                                                     
  4. You and your partner must not be closely related or related in a way prohibited by the Marriage Act 1949;   
  5.  You must exchange some form of formal wording when you marry known as ‘vows’ and the wedding ceremony must be conducted in front of two witnesses who understand what they are witnessing and have the metal capacity to understand;
  6. You, your spouse and the two witnesses will sign the register and there is a fee payable for the wedding ceremony and also the marriage certificate.

The Home Office has an approved list of approved premises registered to conduct civil marriages and civil partnerships: 

Before the wedding preparations and applying for a wedding date, do check with an Immigration lawyer if a visa will be required and how long it will take to get a visa if either of you is not a British citizen or you wish relatives from abroad to attend.

It is important to establish the validity of any proposed wedding ceremony and whether it will be recognised in the country you intend to live in as a married couple. 

The law applicable in this  article is that in England and Wales. While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. The writer does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance  upon the information given.