The nitty gritty of wedding ceremonies can leave even the savviest of brides more than a little baffled. But, armed with our list of six questions to ask your registrar, you’ll be fully prepared for all the legalities around your wedding.
From the cost of getting married itself to writing your own vows, we’ve got all your need-to-know information in one place.
When are you available?
Your first contact with your register office should be at least 12 months before your big day. “The legal paperwork can only be completed up to 12 months before the wedding,” says Dean Geoghegan, a superintendent from Chelsea Register Office, “but before confirming the venue, check that your registrar hasn’t already been booked for your chosen day.”
Where can we have our wedding ceremony?
A civil marriage ceremony can take place in any register office in England or Wales or at a licensed venue. Since 1994, a change in the law means couples in England and Wales (but not Scotland, Northern Ireland or Ireland) can marry in any building with a wedding licence. These approved premises include stately homes, hotels, restaurants and even places like football grounds! At present there are more than 3000 licensed properties – your local authority can give you a complete list. Unlike many religious services, you aren’t restricted to the area you live in. The civil ceremony is conducted by a local registrar, who travels to your venue to perform the marriage.
What are the legalities of getting married?
Once you’ve chosen where you want to get married, contact the superintendent registrar for that area straight away.
In England or Wales, call your local council or see the marriage section on the Directgov website. If you’re getting married in Scotland, visit the General Register Office for Scotland website, and for Northern Ireland, take a look at the Northern Ireland Citizens Advice Bureau pages.
You have to ‘give notice’ of your wedding at least 15 days before the big day, and produce identification such as a birth certificate or passport, proof of address and paperwork that proves you’re both free to marry (including your divorce certificate if one, or both, of you has been married before).
On the actual day, you’ll have a brief interview (either together or separately) with the registrar to finalise arrangements for the ceremony and check the paperwork is in order. This is a legal requirement, but often takes place just before the ceremony and lasts 5-10 minutes.
How much does it cost to get married?
When you first book the date at the register office, you’ll have to pay £60 (£30 each). The ceremony at the register office costs a further £45, plus £4 for the certificate, which has to be paid on the day. The fee for marrying in a licensed venue is set by the local registration authority.
Can we personalise our wedding ceremony?
Legally, you both need to sign a document before the registrar and two witnesses. There are three different forms of vow that can be used to make your marriage legally binding. Your registrar can give you a copy of these beforehand but you can also include personalised vows, music and readings, and ask friends or family to be involved. You can’t currently include anything of a religious nature in a civil ceremony – no hymns, Bible readings, prayers, blessings or even songs that refer to God or angels.
Most registrars are happy to personalise your ceremony, but check with them first. If you want to personalise your vows, get them approved by the register office at least seven days beforehand.
READ MORE: 30 ways to personalise your wedding ceremony
On the day, the bride and groom are led through the ceremony by the registrar who also introduces any guests who are doing a reading. Once you’ve exchanged vows and rings, you and your witnesses have to sign the register. “Don’t forget to check the recorded details carefully before signing,” says Dean Geoghegan. “In the excitement of the moment, people can make mistakes which have to be corrected later, and cost time and money.”
What are the rules about when we get married?
In a register office, you can get married from Monday to Saturday, though not on public holidays.
In a licensed venue, your wedding can be any day but you may have to pay more for a Sunday, for example. Wherever it is, your ceremony has to take place between 8am and 6pm.
“Arrive at least 10 minutes before your ceremony to allow time for the pre-ceremony interview with the registrar,” says Dean. “If you’re late, your ceremony may be delayed or even postponed.” Now there’s a reason to get to the church on time!
Contact your local authority or Directgov (England and Wales) or General Register Office for Scotland for details.