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

Allowing couples to have a wedding that’s meaningful to them. We are currently discussing Terms of Reference for a review of weddings law with Government.

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. At present, couples have to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony.

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 and are not counted as married
  • no protection in the event of the relationship breaking down
  • no automatic rights if the other party dies.

Researchers have highlighted that this might be happening prevalently in British Muslim communities, but it is an issue that other religious and belief communities may also be facing.

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.

As a result, a large range of questions would need to be addressed by a full law reform project, including:


  • What does the state need to know before people can legally marry?
  • To whom, how and where should that information be provided?
  • Should there be any restrictions as to the types of location where a marriage can be solemnized? For example, should marriages be able to take place outdoors?
  • What types of ceremony should be allowed?
  • Who should have to be present at the ceremony?
  • What are the minimum requirements for a legally valid marriage?
  • In what circumstances should non-compliance render a marriage void?
  • What, if any, offences and sanctions are needed to uphold the law of marriage?
  • Are any changes needed to the rules governing the process of the conversion of a civil partnership to a marriage?

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. We are currently discussing Terms of Reference for a full project with the Government.

Documents and downloads

Project details

Area of law

Property, family and trust law


Professor Nicholas Hopkins