New legislation will bring marriage laws into the 21st century

A landmark report by the Law Commission has set out how decades-old marriage laws need to be updated to reflect our modern society, meaning couples will have more choice on how and where they wed.

“This area of law has long been due an overhaul and the Law Commission’s review of marriage report offers a much-needed opportunity to bring our marriage laws into the 21st century,” said Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“Many marriage laws have not been updated since the late 1940s and they set specific and often surprising requirements around how, where and when couples can wed.

“Many couples will be unaware that temporary measures brought in during the height of the pandemic – such as civil ceremonies and civil partnerships taking place outside – have only recently been made permanent.

“Allowing this change means couples have more flexibility and choice on their wedding day, as well as a greater variety of venues with a wider range of officiants.”

The Commission has now unveiled what proposals it will take forward:

  • regulation is focused on the officiant, not the location – allowing weddings to take place outdoors and in a wider variety of buildings – such as gardens, beaches, village halls, cruise ships and parks
  • enhanced protections against forced and predatory marriage and the protections against sham marriages are contained
  • the framework allows non-religious or religious groups to conduct legally binding weddings

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “By simplifying the process and allowing couples to give notice online, marriage laws will be able to support couples more efficiently.

“The option of in-person interviews, however, should remain so appropriate checks can be carried out where there are any concerns about fraud, duress or forced marriage cases.

“The Commission should also use this report to educate the public about marriage. Our members have told us that there is still a belief that cohabitation exists as ‘common law marriage’ in England and Wales.

“Our laws must reflect the society we live in and by modernising existing marriage laws, it means couples can have greater flexibility on where they wed, greater safeguards for both parties and greater education about marrying in England and Wales.”

Notes to editors

Read the Law Commission’s consultation response on weddings

Law Commission consultation on weddings

Read the Law Commission’s consultation on weddings

Read the government’s release on outdoor civil weddings and partnerships

The Commission has been scoping how to update and modernise the legislation since 2015.

In September 2020, the Commission launched a public consultation on weddings, proposing a comprehensive new legislative scheme to update the law governing each aspect of the process of getting married.

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