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Getting married in the UK Part 1 : Civil ceremony

Updated: Aug 4, 2019

It's always exciting to receive enquiries from couples outside the UK who are considering getting married here. This post is to ensure if you want to plan a fabulous UK wedding, that you take the legalities, processes (and their associated costs) into consideration.

Who is allowed to marry in the UK?

Firstly you must meet the minimum age requirement, in the UK foreign nationals must be 18 years of age, if you are younger, you must get written permission from your parents or guardians. You can be single, divorced, or widowed. However, you must be able to produce your divorce documents or a death certificate for your deceased spouse. Transgender individuals can marry as their chosen gender only if they have a birth certificate showing that gender.

Photograph by Amanda Karen Photography

Types of weddings that are recognised in the UK

The UK recognises civil and religious marriages. However, you can also have a non religious ceremony conducted by a celebrant , called a humanist ceremony. In this instance, you would still need to have the legalities taken care of at a registry office for example, where you sign your certificates and then arrange a humanist ceremony separately which is increasingly common amongst UK couples also.

Same-sex couples may marry in England through a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony performed by a willing church.

What is a Civil or Registrar Ceremony and how do you organise one?

A civil ceremony is a non-religious legal marriage ceremony performed by a government official or functionary. The civil ceremony, since the amendment of the Marriage Act in 1995, has become the most popular form (60% of the total) of marriage ceremony in England and Wales. they need to be conducted in an approved premise or registry office in any district. This is important because, the approved venues as outlined in this act, exclude places such as the beach or the middle of a forest where there is no fixed structure, basically you need to be inside four walls for a civil ceremony to be legal. The good thing is that most wedding venues are approved premises for civil ceremonies so you won't have to do this in one place and then arrange a wedding celebration elsewhere. A Link to those approved premises can be found on the Home Office website on this link.

For your wedding to be legal in the UK it is best to follow this route. A good place to start is to identify where you would like to have the civil ceremony conducted. As mentioned above, if you have already identified a venue it would make sense to make your arrangements with the registrar in this district.

ByChenai editorial at Kirtlington Park by Charlotte Wise Photography

Giving notice of your intention to Marry

You will then have to come to the UK in person to give notice to the registrar in your chosen district, you’ll sign a legal statement at your local register office saying you intend to get married or form a civil partnership. You will need to have stayed in the area/district for 7 days prior to giving notice , pay the administrative fee and be able to give proof of this ( hotel booking etc) The other documentation you must present :


proof of UK residency during notice period

proof of residency in Home country (driver's licence, bill )

documents pertaining to divorce or widow status as above

Entry visa (if applicable)

passport sized photos

You will also be asked to give details of the final venue for your ceremony.

After a period of about 28 days (extended if Registrar wishes to do further checks) you are free to hold your ceremony, this can be anywhere and not necessarily where you gave notice but the civil ceremony must be held within 12 months of ‘giving notice’.

What to do next?

Hire a wedding planner ...obviously :)

Seriously, planning a wedding in your home country is stressful enough without having to deal with the time differences and idiosyncrasies of wedding planning in a different country. The benefit of working with ByChenai is the network of trusted suppliers I have in my little white book , I can step in with venue finding and sourcing the best suppliers who will be the right fit for the kind of celebration you want.

* Please ensure you visit the Home Office website here or detailed information relative to your specific circumstances re Visas etc


Contact Chenai via email: kanjani@bychenai.com

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© ByChenai 2018

Luxury UK Wedding Planner 

Photography Credits: Tom Weller Photography. Sophie Lake Weddings, Rachel Takes Pictures, Joasis Photography, Amy Saunders Photo, Rob Dodsworth Photo, Jenni MCord