Law Commission to review UK marriage laws in a two-year project
The Law Commission have announced their proposed two-year project to review the current marriage laws in England and Wales, to make them more relevant to today’s couples. “The current laws date from 1836 and aren’t meeting the needs of many modern couples,” says Professor Nicholas Hopkins, who released the proposed plan today. “A reformed weddings law will allow for greater choice within a simple, fair, and consistent legal structure.” Here’s the breakdown of how UK marriage laws could change…
Today’s announcement summarises which areas of UK marriage laws the Law Commission are examining. Here’s a quick breakdown of the areas that may be affected:
What happens currently in England and Wales
|What the Law Commission are considering|
- There are different ways to give notice for different types of wedding ceremony.
- Whether everyone getting married should have to give notice to the register office.
- Almost all weddings must take place in certain buildings.
- Where couples should be able to marry, such as outside, in a private home, or on board a ship
- Most couples must say specific words.
- Options for couples to express their commitment in a way that is more personal to them.
- A wedding must be either civil or religious.
- How the law might allow nonreligious belief organisations and independent celebrants to conduct weddings (with the decision of whether they should be authorised to do so to be made by Government).
- The law is not clear as to the status of a wedding that was not celebrated in one of the legally authorised ways and some religious ceremonies have not been recognised.
- What should be the minimum requirements for a marriage to be recognised by the law, such as giving notice, the consent of each member of the couple, and signing the paperwork.
- The law is complex and contains different rules about where a wedding can take place, depending on the type of ceremony.
- How to eliminate unnecessary red tape.
What happens next?
These plans are two years away from coming to fruition – the Law Commission will begin with a pre-consultation event to consider the effects of any proposed changes on both wedding venues and couples. There will then be a public consultation exercise in Spring 2020. As a market leader in the wedding industry, Guides for Brides has been invited to contribute to both, and we will keep our businesses up to date with proceedings.
While official changes proposed by the Law Commission won’t take place for another two years at least, some changes may come sooner than you think. The Government are also looking at interim measures to explore whether approved premises regulations could be reformed to allow outdoor locations for civil weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, whilst maintaining the requirement that venues be seemly and dignified.
For more information on proposed changes, read on …
Image credit: Pendrell Hall
The current state of UK marriage laws
The project aims to address, among other things, the fact that couples must currently choose between a religious or civil ceremony for their marriage to be legally recognised. This can cause complications for interfaith relationships, as civil ceremonies explicitly prohibit any religious content, and religious ceremonies are often less willing to incorporate elements of other religious faiths. While interfaith couples may have an independent celebrant-led wedding ceremony in order to incorporate both their religious beliefs, independent celebrant-led ceremonies and humanist (specifically non-religious) weddings are currently not legally recognised in England and Wales.
What’s more, couples having a civil ceremony must marry under strictly controlled circumstances, in either a register office or licensed areas of venues. These restrictions prevent legally-recognised wedding ceremonies taking place outdoors, at sea, in private homes and on military sites.
“The current law does not evenly cater for the needs of different religious groups. The legislation passed in 1836 was not designed with a multi-faith society in mind,” states the official project scope. “Our “buildings-based” system presupposes that people with religious belief would always wish to marry in their place of worship, but that does not hold true for all religions, including Islam, Buddhism and Jainism.”
The aims of the project
The Law Commission’s plans aim to simplify the process both of registering to marry, and allowing greater flexibility to couples with regards to their ceremony type and location. “[A simpler system would mean] fewer mistakes and less risk of a marriage being invalid as a result,” states the report. “A simpler system would also remove unnecessary hurdles and costs to getting married and be easier and cheaper to administer.”
However, the project is clear that the interests of the state must continue to be protected. The Government must still be able to control certain aspects of the legal elements of marriage, both to protect against forced and sham marriages, and also to be able to clearly note marital statuses of UK residents.
The overall aim is to provide ‘greater choice within a simpler legal framework’.
These changes have come on the back of a public consultation regarding non-religious ceremonies, such as humanist weddings, in 2014. Five years ago, the Government conducted a public consultation as to whether these should be recognised legally, and the result was considerable support for a change in the law. However, responses generally indicated that a more complete overhaul of current UK marriage laws should be considered, which lead to the Law Commission plans currently being considered.
Image credit: Spanish City
Here at Guides for Brides, we welcome any legal changes that allow marriages to feel more modern, equal and flexible, which the proposed plan appears to do. As Scotland currently legally recognises humanist ceremonies, it is sensible and logical that England and Wales follow suit. This will allow engaged couples more freedom with regards to wedding locations, and the religious (or otherwise) content of their wedding ceremonies.
While this may seem like it would undermine the market for wedding venues, we are confident that the majority of couples will still prefer a recognised wedding venue to a public outdoor space or private home. Only a wedding venue can provide the customer service, facilities and flexibility that modern couples expect of their wedding days. These changes will simply make it easier for venues to expand their ceremony options.
With the figures released earlier this year reporting that the number of marriages is continuing to decrease, we believe that an attempt to modernise the system and make it easier (and potentially cheaper) to marry can only benefit the industry.
Whatever happens, we’ll keep you up to date with all the latest changes as this project develops, and let you know how it affects you. Read the official project scope at lawcom.gov.uk.