Changes to marriage laws in 2018
If you’re dreaming of an outdoor wedding on the beach, in a garden or in a forest clearing, then you could be in luck – the Ministry of Justice is expected to make changes to the rules dictating where couples can marry in England and Wales, meaning that outdoor ceremonies could become a lot more flexible.
The rules on marriage locations have remained largely the same since 1994, when The Marriage Act allowed weddings to take place in venues licensed for civil ceremonies, rather than just places of worship and register offices. This gave couples a huge amount of choice when it came to their civil ceremony venue, and caused a drop in religious weddings in England and Wales – down to around 30% of all weddings – with couples choosing to get married in barns, hotels and historic buildings rather than their local church. Over 7500 venues have been approved for weddings since 1994, and these days 89% of non-religious weddings now take place in approved venues rather than register offices.
The Ministry of Justice is expected to announce changes to the rules governing approved venues in the near future, opening the way for more venues to offer greater choice for couples, and for civil ceremonies in England and Wales to bear more similarities to the flexible approach of Scotland (where humanist open-air ceremonies are legally binding).
The current rules for approved wedding venues in England and Wales:
- Weddings must take place in a immovable structure with a permanent roof, but can include permanently moored boats.
- Weddings can’t take place in the open air or in a marquee.
- Venues with current or recent religious connections cannot be used for civil ceremonies.
- The premises must be considered to be ‘seemly and dignified’.
- The venue must be regularly available for marriages.
- Venues need to identify a specific room or rooms where weddings will take place.
Rules for weddings at approved venues
- No food or alcoholic drinks can be sold or consumed in the specified area one hour before or during the wedding proceedings.
- The ceremony can’t have any religious content such as religious music or readings.
- The venue must be freely open to the public during the ceremony.
Outdoor weddings in England and Wales
Despite the strict rules, engaged couples still love outdoor weddings! Many wedding venues work around the current legislation by building licensed permanent pergolas, pagodas and temples in their gardens (perfect for a picturesque wedding ceremony), or by widening barn doors to seat the registrar and the couple just inside the building with guests outside. For couples dreaming of a beach or forest wedding, or even marrying in their own homes or gardens, the only option currently is to choose a humanist wedding ceremony, which can be held anywhere but isn’t legally binding, and then holding the legal ceremony at a register office at another date.
By far the most popular change would allow for approved venues to carry out ceremonies anywhere within their grounds, opening the door for outdoor ceremonies, but we’re predicting other changes, too. The proposed relaxation of the current marriage legislation is apparently designed to help couples marry for less, according to a statement by the Treasury. “Relaxing restrictions would make it cheaper and simpler for couples to get married, potentially supporting more people to get married,” it said. “This review will help the law keep pace with modern Britain while helping people keep the cost of living down.”
As well as the expected changes to outdoor wedding ceremonies, we’re hoping for a relaxation in the rules relating to selling or consuming food or alcoholic drinks before and during the ceremony, which would open the way for pubs and restaurants to carry out wedding ceremonies. This is fantastic news if you’re planning a wedding on a tight budget, or if you want a small or informal wedding that doesn’t require an exclusive use contract on a massive venue.
Rules requiring the venue to be regularly available for marriages could be removed, which would mean that couples could potentially get approval for buildings not suitable as a commercial wedding venue, such as a private estate or a family home. However, any venue would need to be freely open to the public during the ceremony to allow for any objections to the marriage, so bear this in mind!
The requirement for the local council to confirm that the approved venue is “seemly and dignified” may have been appropriate when the 1836 Marriage Act first allowed weddings to take place in non-religious buildings, but these days seems outdated and irrelevant – especially for modern couples who’d like their venue and ceremony to reflect their personalities and relationship.
Will the changes go far enough?
Speaking to our brides, we’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of couples going abroad to get married over the past few years. Greece and Italy are the most popular options, with couples getting married on beaches, boats and in open air restaurants. With romantic images flooding social media and couples seeking Instagram-worthy wedding venues, any changes that allow couples to have the wedding they choose can’t come soon enough. We’re also finding that this generation of brides are increasingly pushing to plan the wedding they want and that matches their personality, rather than working around outdated rules and old-fashioned traditions.
However, don’t get too excited – scrapping the legal requirements for civil ceremonies entirely is very unlikely. Local councils rely heavily on income from approved wedding venues, with each setting their own fees of around £2000 to approve a venue for civil ceremonies for three years, with an additional charge for each room approved. There is a fee of around £500 – £1000 for the registrar to attend for each wedding, paid by the couple.
There is still a place for weddings in wonderful historic buildings, stately homes and rustic barns, and our unpredictable weather will ensure that even those couples choosing outdoor ceremonies will want an indoor contingency option too – we’re just hoping that these changes will give couples even more flexibility when it comes to planning the day of their dreams.
Have the proposed changes got you feeling inspired to start planning? Start with your FREE online wedding planner here.
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