Sarah Pearl & Michael: The rings

The legal requirements for marriage in the UK

If you want to get hitched without a hitch, make sure you're up to date with how to get married in the UK

While finding your dream venue, choosing the perfect wedding dress and selecting your reception music are the exciting parts of wedding planning, the legal side is equally, if not more important.


Read on for the answers to the most common questions about getting legally wed.

Image | Fiona Kelly

Just remember, you should double-check all details with your local register office and on

Who can legally get married in the UK?

To be legally married in the UK you and your partner must be at least 16 years old (in England and Wales, if either of you is under 18, your parents or guardian must give their consent). And y – hopefully this is obvious – you must not be closely related.

There are also restrictions on where you can get married.

Can we get married anywhere?

Short answer? No.

“In England and Wales it’s the place, not the person, that’s licensed for marriage,” says wedding planner Kathryn Lloyd. “The venue must be a permanent structure with a roof, approved for marriage and accessible to anyone to book for their marriage. You can have a non-legal blessing at home, but for it to be considered legal you would also need to have a civil or church ceremony.”

You can have a humanist ceremony wherever you want, but that’s not legally binding at the time of writing.

Can’t we get married outside?

Sort of.

Some venues have licensed areas with a roof in the grounds such as a summerhouse or a gazebo. However, you can’t get married on a beach or in a field or forest.

READ MORE: The laws on outdoor marriage in the UK

What time can I get married?

At any time! It used to be that ceremonies in England and Wales could only take place between 8am and 6pm, but changes to the law mean you can say your vows – whether civil or religious – whenever you want, depending on your venue and celebrant’s availability.

Can I get married at any time of the year?

Certain faiths have specific times when you are not encouraged to get married.

For CofE ceremonies Easter and Advent (the lead-up to Christmas) are discouraged. And if you do get agreement, there may be restrictions on certain hymns and floral decorations.

In the Catholic Church, you can’t marry during Lent (the 40 days before Easter). Jewish couples cannot get married between Passover and Pentecost, during three weeks between July and August and on the Sabbath (Saturday) unless it’s two hours after sundown.

READ MORE: Wedding dates to avoid in 2019

Who do we have to tell if we want to get married?

“For civil and religious marriages in the UK, you need to ‘give notice’ of marriage to the Superintendent Registrar of the district(s) where you and your partner live,” says Andrew Kenyon, Superintendent Registrar at Chelsea Register Office.

“You can ‘give notice’ up to a year before you get married, but no later than 29 days before the wedding.” (In the Church of England, the vicar counts as the registrar and the reading of your ‘banns’ as giving notice.)

What paperwork will we need?

Armed with your wedding date, place and time, you must show evidence of your name, age and nationality – usually a passport and a council tax bill.

There is a flat fee of £30 per person for your marriage certificate.  “If you or your partner are divorced, take your Decree Absolute when you give notice,” adds Andrew. “Lots of couples take their Decree Nisi, which can’t be used.”

Is it the same in Scotland?

North of the border, the rules are slightly different. You normally give notice to marry in the district you’re tying the knot in – not where you live.

You don’t have to be a resident of Scotland to get married there. A religious or humanist marriage can take place anywhere as long as the minister/religious official/celebrant agrees, if you would prefer to have your ceremony beside a beach or loch.

A civil ceremony may be held at a registration office or an approved place – if you’re hoping to apply for temporary approval for a venue of your choice (for example, your family home), contact your local authority for more info.

Can I only get married in my local church?

At one time, you could only marry in a Church of England parish church in the area where you or your partner lived, but the rules changed in October 2008.

As long as certain conditions are met, you can ask to marry in any parish where you have a connection as long as the vicar approves.

We’re having a civil ceremony – can we write our own vows?

Yes, although you’ll need to include the statutory declarations. Click here for more information.

READ MORE: Top Tips for Writing your own Wedding Vows

Can we choose any readings for a civil ceremony?

There must be no reference to religion for either your readings or music. This needs to be approved by your registrar before the day – check first, as some registrars are stricter than others.

READ MORE: 19 Alternative Wedding Readings for Non-Traditional Couples

At which point are we actually married?

“Once you have declared you are both free to marry and you say the ‘contracting words’ in the presence of witnesses, technically you are married,” says a spokesperson from East Dereham Register Office in Norfolk.

“Signing the register is the legal confirmation that you are married.”

What name does the bride sign in the register?

You should sign the name that you were known by immediately before the ceremony – not your new married name.

Can I have a humanist ceremony?

A humanist ceremony is not legally binding in England and Wales although it became legal to have one in Scotland in 2005.

A humanist wedding carried out in Scotland is legally binding anywhere. However, outside Scotland you need a civil ceremony to make it legally binding.

You can learn more from our guide to humanist wedding ceremonies.

Do I have to invite guests?

There is no rule about ‘guests’ but a ceremony must take place in the presence of a registrar or other authorised person in front of two witnesses.

What if I’m marrying someone who isn’t a British citizen?

There’s loads of helpful information about residency and requirements for giving notice on the General Register Office website, so it’s worth checking this out early on in your planning.

What if I want to get married abroad?

Read our article on everything you need to know about getting married overseas for all you need to know – there’s paperwork you need to fill in, but each country has slightly different legislations to abide by.


READ MORE: The Civil Wedding Ceremony – Everything You Need To Know