Weddings

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

A reformed law of weddings that will allow couples greater choice within a simple, fair and consistent legal structure, so that people can have a wedding that’s meaningful to them. We have settled the Terms of Reference for a review of weddings law with Government, and the project has now commenced.

Download the scoping report

Download the summary

(This project was previously called “Marriage Law”)

The problem

The main law which governs marriage is from 1836 and has failed to keep pace with modern Britain.

How and where marriages can take place is tightly regulated, and differs depending on the type of wedding. At present, couples have to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. Couples having an Anglican wedding can give notice to the church; all other couples must give notice at the register office. With few exceptions, all couples must have their wedding either in a place of worship or licenced secular venue, and cannot marry outdoors or even in the garden of a licenced venue.

If a couple does not comply with the legal requirements, which may happen with some religious ceremonies, their marriage may not be legally recognised. People often only discover their lack of legal status at the time of relationship breakdown. This means the parties have no legal status or protection and are not counted as married.

The scoping project

In December 2014 the Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales.

We conducted a preliminary study involving research of domestic and comparative law, and engagement with key stakeholders.

The aim was to identify and provide an initial analysis of the issues that needed to be addressed in order to develop proposals for the reform of marriage law.

We published our scoping paper setting out the findings in December 2015.

During the scoping phase we found that there were clear problems with the law. It highlighted potential problems with how marriages are registered, what paperwork a couple must complete before their wedding takes place, who can conduct marriages, and where they can take place.

Our Scoping Paper concluded that there was a need for a wholescale review of the law relating to how and where people get married.

The result of the scoping phase

It was announced in the Budget that the Government will be asking the Law Commission to undertake a review of the law governing weddings.

Terms of Reference

The Law Commission has agreed with the Government to undertake a full review of the law governing how and where couples can marry in England and Wales. The review will seek to provide recommendations for a reformed law of weddings that allows for greater choice within a simple, fair and consistent legal structure.

The review will be guided by five principles for reform:

  • Certainty and simplicity
  • Fairness and equality
  • Protecting the state’s interest
  • Respecting individuals’ wishes and beliefs
  • Removing any unnecessary regulation, so as to increase the choice and lower the cost of wedding venues for couples.

As part of the project, the Law Commission will consider:

  • The legal preliminaries that should be required prior to a wedding.
  • Where weddings should be able to take place, considering for example weddings outdoors, at sea, and on military sites, with a view to removing restrictive regulations.
  • Who should be able to solemnize a marriage, including considering how a scheme could include weddings conducted by non-religious belief organisations and independent celebrants. The Law Commission will not, however, be making recommendations on whether as a matter of policy new groups should be allowed to conduct legally binding weddings, which is a decision for Government.
  • Whether specific vows should be required during a ceremony.
  • How marriages should be registered.
  • What the consequences should be for couples who do not comply with any requirements.

An infographic summarising the scope of our review is available here. 

Our full Terms of Reference are available here.

Government’s separate work

Alongside the Law Commission project, the Government will take forward separate work to explore what can be done to deliver interim reform within the existing buildings-based system for certain civil ceremonies. The Government will explore the extent to which regulations governing approved premises could be reformed to allow outdoor locations for civil weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, whilst maintaining the requirement that venues be seemly and dignified.

Sharia Review

The Government has committed as part of the integrated communities strategy to exploring the legal and practical challenges of limited reform relating to the law on marriage and religious weddings, based on the recommendations of the Independent Sharia Review. The Government is taking forward this work separately from the Law Commission’s wider review of the law on marriage ceremonies.

Government will ensure that it considers the work and recommendations of the Law Commission as it takes forward its separate work on the recommendation of the Independent Sharia Review.

Next steps

The Commission will now begin its work on the project and prepare questions and provisional proposals for reform for a public consultation. The detailed review including a final report is expected to last two years.

 

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Property, family and trust law

Commissioner

Professor Nicholas Hopkins