Who can marry in the UK?
In the UK, men and women may marry if they are over 16 and not married or in a civil partnership with someone else.
Individuals aged 16 or 17 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, however, can only marry if they obtain their parents’ consent.
- Interesting fact: until as recently as 1929, girls as young as 12 and boys as young as 14 could legally marry in Scotland.
Moreover, close blood relatives cannot marry – although this does not include first cousins, who can still legally wed one another in the UK.
Can a man and a woman register a civil partnership instead of getting married?
No. Even though essentially the law treats civil partners and married partners equally, opposite-sex couples cannot register a civil partnership.
In order to form a civil partnership in the UK, a couple must:
- both be the same sex;
- not already be in a civil partnership or marriage;
- be 16 years of age or older (as with marriage, however, people aged 16 or 17 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland can only form a civil partnership if they obtain their parents’ consent); and
- not be within the prohibited degrees of kinship (see above).
Where can I get married or form a civil partnership?
This depends on where in the UK you live. Your best bet is to visit GOV.uk, the General Register Office for Scotland , or General Register Office for Northern Ireland for detailed information on approved locations and the rules applicable in your area.
My partner and I wish to marry in a hot air balloon. Is that possible?
You can hold a ceremony (of sorts!) in the balloon, but you will need to hold another one in a registry/registrar’s office or other “approved” location when you return to earth.
What are the other legal requirements for marriage in the UK?
Again, the legal requirements vary depending on which part of the UK you want to marry in.
As a first step, 1-3 months before the date you want to get hitched you should submit marriage notice forms at the register or registrar’s office in the district where you wish to marry. One or both of you (depending on where you live) will need to go to the office in person to do this.
To file the notice, you will need to provide some basic details, such as your full name, age, and address, state where you intend to get married, and present documentary evidence of your nationality (e.g., your passport). In Scotland, you will also need your birth certificate. Moreover, if you’ve been married or registered in a civil partnership before, you will need to take a copy of the decree of dissolution or annulment. And if your spouse or civil partner is deceased, you will need to take a copy of the death certificate.
The marriage notice is publicly displayed for fifteen days, after which the authority for your marriage or civil partnership can be granted. Each notice is valid for one year, but if you decide to change venue, new notices must be given.
Before you give notice, you should make sure that you are able to satisfy the laws concerning residency and immigration control (see below).
As for the marriage ceremony, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland it must be conducted by a person or in the presence of a person authorised to register marriages in the district; in Scotland, by a registrar or an approved celebrant. Two witnesses aged 16 or over should also be in attendance.
At the end of the ceremony, you and your partner, the two witnesses, and the person who conducted the ceremony (and if that person is not authorised to register marriages, the person who is registering the marriage), must all sign the marriage register, or schedule as it is known in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I want to surprise my partner with a wedding – just as I might for a surprise birthday party. Is this possible?
No. By law, both of you must give notice ahead of time (see above). Failure to provide proper notice can result in a marriage being postponed or prevented from proceeding.
What do we need to do to comply with UK immigration law?
If you are subject to immigration control, you will need one of the following:
- entry clearance visa expressly for the purpose of marriage or civil partnership in the UK;
- certificate of approval with written permission of the Secretary of State – you can get this from the Home Office;
- document showing that you have settled status in the UK, i.e., Indefinite Leave to Remain.
My parents are forcing me to get married. What can I do?
It is a criminal offence to force a person into marriage against their will. Coercion may be physical or emotional. It is an abuse of human rights and cannot be justified on any religious or cultural basis.
There are a range of civil and criminal law measures you can take to get out of a forced marriage – and in almost all cases victims qualify for free legal aid.
If you are being forced into a marriage or are worried about someone else, call the government Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) for help and advice at +44 (0)20 7008 0151, between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday. Alternatively, an Emergency Duty Officer is available outside of office hours at +44 (0)20 7008 1500.
You can also contact the Karma Nirvana charity , a helpline for victims of forced marriages and honour crimes. The helpline number is: 0800 5999 247.