The actual ceremony – the most crucial part of the day – is surprisingly easy to overlook in the whirl of flowers, outfits and cake. Make it just as memorable as your reception by taking time to really think about how you want to get legally wed.
This is a non-religious legal ceremony that takes place in a register office or local authority-approved venue, which can be anything from a barn or hotel to a zoo or aquarium. An outdoor ‘I do’ is possible in England and Wales, as long as you exchange vows under a permanent structure, such as a pergola. In addition to the required legal wording, you can usually add your own personalised vows and readings, provided they have no religious connection. Contact the closest register office to your venue to make sure there’s a registrar available for your date.
With a Church of England, Church in Wales, Roman Catholic, Jewish or Quaker ceremony, your celebrant will normally be able to register the marriage – that is, make it legal. For all other religious ceremonies, ask your celebrant, as you may have to arrange a civil ceremony as well in order to be legally wed. In any case, always check whether your place of worship has any specific rules: with a Church of England ceremony, for example, you must announce your intention to marry through the reading of banns in the three months leading up to the big day.
There’s no set format for this non-religious ceremony – you and your celebrant decide on the wording, readings, location and structure. Some couples incorporate symbolic elements, such as handfasting (tying cord or ribbon around your joined hands) and sand pouring (mixing colourful sands). As humanist weddings aren’t legally binding in England and Wales, you’ll need a civil ceremony, too.
The Scottish exception
Ceremonies for most religions and belief systems (including humanism) have legal status in Scotland. What’s more, if your celebrant’s happy with it, you can get married anywhere, from the banks of a loch or a beach to the top of a mountain.
Unless you’re having a Church of England ceremony, this is an essential legal step. Remember: contact the register office closest to where you live to make an appointment to give notice; get in touch with the register office nearest your venue (if in a different area) to arrange the actual civil ceremony. Currently, you have to give notice a minimum of 16 days before the ceremony (you need 15 full days for your notice to be displayed at the register office). However, recent changes to the law mean that this will increase to 28 days from March 2015. You then pick up your authority documents. These are valid for one year, unless you change venue, which means starting the process again.
Date and time
You can legally wed any day of the week and at any hour, including at night, although bear in mind that your celebrant may not be as excited as you at the prospect of an 11pm Christmas Eve ceremony. You may also have to think about opening restrictions at your venue.
You don’t have to…
This is a tradition, not a legal requirement. Just make sure you warn your celebrant in advance, to avoid any awkward pauses.
We’re pretty sure a marriage is still legally binding if the bride’s in sparkly gold sequins.
Be ‘given away’
There’s no legal reason why you can’t walk down the aisle alone or with your intended.
You just need two witnesses present (but remember, the celebrant doesn’t count!).
Legalities for destination weddings vary enormously from country to country. For instance, in France you need 40 days’ residency before the ceremony, while in Las Vegas you can pretty much just walk in off the street. Make sure you do plenty of research, or consider hiring a specialist planner for insider advice. You’ll be asked to produce certain documents, such as birth certificate, decree absolute (if you’ve been married before) or Certificate of Non Impediment (easily arranged through your local UK registrar). Set on sunnier climes but want to cut down the paperwork? Have your legal ceremony in the UK before jumping on a plane for a blessing.
Hungry for more wedding tips? Pick up your free Ultimate Planning Guide in the new issue of You & Your Wedding, on sale now. In it, you’ll find everything you need to plan the perfect day your way!