Marriage in Exceptional Circumstances: What is a Deathbed Wedding?
On November 5th, England entered a month-long lockdown with restrictions expected to lift on December the 2nd. Government guidelines state that weddings will not be permitted at all during the lockdown in England unless in the very exceptional circumstances of a ‘deathbed wedding’. So, what exactly is a ‘deathbed wedding’?
Which exceptional circumstances allow for a ‘Deathbed Wedding’?
The Registrar General can authorise marriages to take place at short notice in exceptional circumstances where one person is seriously ill, not expected to recover and cannot be moved to a place where a marriage could normally take place.
This is known as a marriage by Registrar General’s Licence. The marriage can then take place in any location, 24 hours a day.
This is an emergency provision that is always available, not just during COVID. However, this is the only type of wedding which can take place during the current coronavirus lockdown in England.
What do the new COVID regulations in England allow for?
Currently, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies will not be permitted to take place due to England lockdown regulations. However, there are exceptional circumstances. The guidance states that a wedding may be permitted when one of those getting married is seriously ill and not expected to recover. This is referred to as a ‘deathbed wedding’.
According to the government regulations, during lockdown, a ‘deathbed wedding’ will be limited to 6 people. However in practice couples are reporting that registrars are unable to attend a deathbed wedding at home as it isn’t Covid secure. Those taking place in hospital are being carried out by the hospital’s priest with the well partner being there for just long enough to sign the paperwork.
How to arrange a Deathbed Wedding
We spoke to Alison Cathcart of Westminster Registration Service to find out the process for applying for a Registrar General’s Licence – the licence required for a deathbed marriage to go ahead.
She advised that the first step is to contact the Registrar in the district where the terminally ill person lives. They will assist the partner who is well in obtaining the medical evidence that is needed. The “well partner” will also give Notice on behalf of both parties, in that district.
They will need a letter from a medical practitioner confirming that all three of the following applies to the person that is unwell:
- Is seriously ill and not expected to recover.
- Can’t be moved to a place that marriage would usually take place.
- Understands the nature of marriage and the contract that they are entering into.
The Registrar then applies to the Registrar General for the licence and the marriage can take place immediately.
The following is taken from the Registrars’ handbook.
How quickly can a Deathbed Marriage be arranged?
Deathbed marriages are only available to those who are terminally ill and with life expectancy of less than 6 months.
As long as the letter from the medical practitioner clearly states that all the requirements are met, using the Registrar to arrange the wedding is a quick process and the marriage can potentially take place on the same day. You do not have to wait the usual 29 days after giving Notice.
From the experts
To avoid unnecessary delays, it is really important that the wording from the medical practitioner includes all the required evidence.Alison Cathcart, Westminster Registration Service
Can a Deathbed Marriage be religious, a civil ceremony or civil partnership?
You can choose to have a Civil Ceremony, Civil Partnership, in which case two registrars will be present, or a religious wedding which is attended by one registrar and one religious minister. The religious minister carries out the wedding and the registrar records the details.
Deathbed weddings carried out by Church of England Ministers are governed by slightly different laws as they are registered by the Church and not the General Registrars Office, so need only be attended by one minister.
Can I have a Deathbed Wedding in a wedding venue?
No, one of the requirements in order to apply for a Deathbed Marriage is that the person applying can’t be moved to a place that marriage would usually take place.
Can guests attend a Deathbed Wedding during coronavirus?
Yes, the current wording in the legislation that came into force from 5th November 2020 confirms that it is ‘reasonably necessary’ for a person to leave or be outside their home to attend a marriage ceremony, a civil partnership ceremony or an alternative wedding ceremony.
There can be a maximum of 6 people present.
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