A civil ceremony is a marriage without any religious context. In England and Wales, it can take place at a register office or a venue that has been approved for civil marriage.
Who can get married?
To legally get married or form a civil partnership in the UK, you must be 16 or over, free to marry or form a civil partnership (single, divorced or widowed), and not closely related. If you are under 18 you will need permission from your parents or guardians in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Only same sex couples can form a civil partnership.
As well as registry offices, approved premises include some stately homes, hotels, restaurants and even zoos! To find a location, contact your local council or search on the marriage and civil partnership page of the Direct.gov website.
What do I need to do?
Once you decide to get married, you need to give notice of marriage at your local register office. This needs to be done at least 28 full days before your wedding day. You can only give notice at the registry office if you have lived in the registration district for the past 7 days and your notice will be publicly displayed there for 28 days. You can find your local register here. If you plan to marry in a different area, you should also contact the register office in the district where you would like to marry.
You will need to pay a fee of £46 to register your marriage if you’re having it at a registry office, though this may be more at other venues. The certificate itself costs £4 on the day of the event, or £10 after. We advise getting a copy to prove marital status in the future, so you always have one at home.
What documents do I need to take with me to the register office?
When you go to the register office, you need to take proof of your name, age and nationality. This could be a valid passport, birth certificate, national identity card from the EEA or Switzerland (if non-British), certificate of registration, certificate of neutralisation, biometric residence card or permit or a travel document. If you’ve changed your name, you must also bring proof of that, for example a deed poll.
You will also need to bring proof of address, for example a valid UK or EEA driving licence, gas or electricity bill from the last 3 months, a bank statement from the last month, or a council tax bill or mortgage settlement from the last 12 months. It’s best to check with your local registry office what exactly they will require from you before you go – for example, some may specifically require a photographic form of ID.
If you’ve been divorced or widowed, you will need to bring the decree absolute or final order, or the death certificate of your former spouse.
While a civil ceremony cannot have any religious content, the superintendent registrar will be able to tell you how to give your ceremony a personal touch.
Typically, the ceremony will include the vows, which you can discuss with the registrar prior to the ceremony, and the signing of the register. You need to pick two witnesses who will also sign the register. You also have the option to have readings, songs or music, as long as they are non-religious.
You will need to contact the local authorities of the country you are marrying in to find out what you need to do. Your marriage or civil partnership should be recognised in the UK if you follow the correct process of the local law. You may need to request certain documents from the government, such as a ‘certificate of no impediment’ which is required in some countries.
However, many couples choose to have a civil ceremony in the UK before having an unofficial blessing at their destination of choice.
I would like to get married in Scotland. Is the law the same as England and Wales?
In Scotland, you can also have a civil or religious ceremony. A civil marriage can take place at a registry office or approved venue – a list of approved venues can be obtained from the General Register Office for Scotland.