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'Fabulous' wedding but not a legal marriage, says High Court judge

Date:8 JUN 2009

A couple who had a "splendid and romantic" wedding ceremony on a rooftop overlooking a sunlit sea in Cape Town, were not legally married a High Court judge has ruled.

Gillian Hudson, 43, and a wealthy London estate agent Robert Leigh, 49, had a lavish wedding ceremony in South Africa attended by their friends and family. Although the couple went through a religious wedding ceremony, they had agreed beforehand with the priest for the vows not to comply with marital laws.

The couple had planned a second legal civil marriage in a register office in London for a few weeks after the South African ceremony. However the couple split up before the second ceremony could take place. Ms Hudson then went to court to argue that the ceremony was a valid marriage.

As a result of Mr Justice Bodey's decision, Ms Hudson is unable to file for divorce or seek a financial settlement from Mr Leigh.

Mr Leigh, who the managing director of the Featherstone Leigh chain of estate agents, is the father of Ms Hudson's four-year-old daughter and will have to pay towards the child's maintenance.

The judge said that the couple had enjoyed a "splendid and romantic" ceremony after viewing a DVD of the occasion.

He added: "It was a fabulous rooftop setting overlooking a sunlit sea. It was a very happy occasion with the couple appearing to be very much in love.

"The bride was in full wedding trousseau and all the guests were dressed up to the nines. Their four-year-old daughter made a delightful bridesmaid and there was a splendid sit-down dinner followed by dancing."

"Rings were exchanged with the words, 'I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage' and after the ceremony they were referred to as Mr and Mrs Leigh", the judge added.

But he ruled that no marriage had taken place because it had not been asked at the ceremony whether there was any just impediment. There was no reference to "lawful wife" or "lawful husband", and no declaration that they were lawfully married was made.

Earlier in the case Ms Hudson said: "I felt a complete transition in my whole being after I took the vows. I felt very married. I felt like a different woman and I felt like a wife. The whole essence of my being felt different. I was very happy to be with Robert."