The Legal Requirements for Marriage and Civil Partnerships

Marriage & Civil Partnership Law in England and Wales
Under the current Law for civil marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales, celebrant led ceremonies have no legal status. To be legally married or to form a civil partnership a couple must have a separate civil ceremony in the presence of 2 witnesses and 1 or 2 registrars’ depending on whether they are getting married or forming a civil partnership.

For a ceremony to be legal it can only take place at a register office, at an approved premises, or at a church, chapel or other religious building which has been registered for the solemnisation of marriages or civil partnerships. The exception to the above is marriages according to the Jewish faith or the Society of Friends (Quakers), which can take place anywhere.

How to give notice of a marriage or civil partnership
To get married or form a civil partnership, couples must attend an interview, providing proof of identity and nationality, proof of address and sign a legal statement at their local Registry Office in the presence of a Superintendent Registrar. This is the giving notice stage of proceedings which will cost you £35 each.

Couples must have lived in their resident county for at least 7 whole days and must give notice at least 29 calendar days before their ceremony, but this may be longer if either is subject to immigration control. The ceremony must take place within 12 months of giving notice.

How to book a registrar for your ceremony
If you intend getting married or forming a civil partnership at your local Registry Office or an approved premises (because you have chosen to have a celebrant led ceremony) you can go ahead and do this after you have given notice. To hold a ceremony at your local Registry Office you can book a registrar up to one year before your ceremony, and up to two years for an approved premises. It’s best to do this as early as possible to ensure a registrar is available on the date you have in mind.

Registering your marriage or civil partnership at your local Registry Office will cost you approximately £70, which includes the cost for two marriage certificates. This fee must be paid in full when you book. The costs increase substantially if you want a ceremony held at an approved premises or a community venue.
For further details check with your nearest local Registry Office.

The Legal Ceremony
At your legal ceremony you both must attend with 2 witnesses. There is no dress code, the decision what to wear is entirely yours.

The ceremony at the Registry Office will take approximately 10-15 minutes and is a prescribed service with limited choices, and no room for any flexibility.

A short statement about marriage will be given and you will be required to repeat legal declaration and contracting words for a marriage and repeat or confirm you have read and understood the declaration words for a civil partnership. You do not have to exchange rings which is a symbolic gesture and does not form part of the legal ceremony. Once your ceremony ends you and your witnesses, and the registrar(s) officiating your ceremony then sign a schedule. The details of the schedule are then entered on to the General Register Office computer system by the registrar(s) and a copy certificate of your official marriage or civil partnership is sent out to you approximately 10 to 14 days after your ceremony.

What many couples do not realise, once they have said the declaration and contracting words for a marriage, as prescribed by law in the presence of 2 witnesses and 2 registrars, they are legally married. And, for a civil partnership the couple will be asked to recite the declaration words after the registrar, or by reading from the schedule, before signing the schedule to form a legal partnership as prescribed by law in the presence of 2 witnesses and the 1 registrar.