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Marriage in England and Wales: A much needed reform
It has been a tough year or two for most of the country, and especially so for the wedding industry, who have seen Covid-19 restrictions leading to record numbers of cancellations and postponements, together with a significant fall in revenue. Thankfully, 2021 sees an end to most restrictions and some exciting changes to the current law surrounding marriages in England and Wales.
Between 20th September 2020 and 4th January 2021, the Law Commission undertook a public consultation surrounding the outdated laws associated with getting married in England and Wales. In response, the government have made some temporary changes to the law surrounding where a couple can get married.
So, where can a marriage currently take place in England and Wales?
A marriage, such as a civil ceremony, must usually take place at one of the following venues:
- Register office
- Approved premises (such as a hotel)
- A building of the Church of England or the Church in Wales
- Any other building registered for the purposes of a religious marriage
- A naval, military or air force chapel
A marriage can also take place at the home or residence of a person who is terminally ill, housebound, or detained, but only in exceptional circumstances.
How is the law changing?
From 1st July 2021 until 5th April 2022, civil ceremonies can take place outdoors in the grounds of an approved premises. So, at most marriage venues, the happy couple will be able to get married anywhere within the grounds of the venue, including outdoors, without the need for there to be a permanent structure (such as a pagoda) to marry under.
Venues will need to be deemed “seemly and dignified” by the local authority prior to their use.
There will be a further consultation during Autumn 2021. The government will then decide whether the changes will become permanent and whether any other changes will be made, with new legislation expected in Spring 2022.
I have an existing booking at a venue, can my ceremony now take place outside?
In theory, yes. However, you should check with your venue to see whether they will be offering outdoor ceremonies. Remember, they must have confirmation from the local authority that the proposed location is “seemly and dignified”.
I have already given notice of my intention to marry, do I need to change this if I want to marry outdoors?
No, not unless you are changing to a different venue.
What if it rains?
You will need to discuss this with the venue and ensure that there is an alternative room that could be used to marry within the premises in such circumstances.
Is there a limit on the number of guests that can attend if the wedding is outdoors?
You should speak to your venue about this. Many venues have set their own limitations due to Covid-19 and consideration would need to be given to how many people could be accommodated indoors if it were to rain.