Planning a civil ceremony: Your questions answered
Planning a civil ceremony can be rather intimidating. From choosing a venue, booking your registrars and giving notice of intention to marry, the process can seem convoluted at times. Working with Westminster Registrars, we’ve gathered together the most frequently asked questions when planning a civil ceremony, in the hopes of debunking some myths and making things clearer!
1. I’m engaged! What do I do first?
Pick a licensed wedding venue. You won’t be able to book your registrars or give notice of intention to marry until you’ve decided where your wedding will be taking place. Tick this off the list first.
2. OK, we know where we’re getting married. Now what do we do?
Once you’ve chosen your venue, you need to book the registrars to come and marry you. There will be two registrars there on the day – one to conduct the civil ceremony and one to write the legal record of the marriage and marriage certificates.
You will need to book registrars from the register office local to the place where you are getting married, not the register office where you live. For example, if you live in Gloucestershire but are marrying in Northamptonshire, it’s the Northamptonshire registry service that you need to book your registrar with.
3. That’s done. Do we need to do anything else? What is notice of intention to marry?
Before you can get married, you must give your notice of intention to marry. This process differs slightly depending on what country you live in.
If you live in England or Wales, then you must do this at your local register office, regardless of where your wedding venue is. Before you can give notice you must have established a residence at an address in England or Wales for at least 7 consecutive days immediately prior to giving notice. Please make sure you give notice at least 28 days before your wedding date. This is because your register office must display your notice of intention for 28 days.
If you or your partner are non-UK nationals, and are subject to immigration control in the UK, then you must both attend a designated register office in England or Wales to give notice. You can attend any designated register office in the country, not necessarily the nearest one to you. But, you must still have established a residence at an address in England or Wales before doing so. In some cases you may fall under the Home Office referral scheme, which could lead to the Home Office deciding to extend the notice period from 28 days to 70 days.
4. I’ve given notice and now I’m thinking about my wedding day. What time should I arrive?
You should get there 30 minutes before your ceremony starts. The registrars will need to interview you and your partner before the civil ceremony – this can be done separately if you’d rather not see each other before walking down the aisle!
5. Can I write my own vows at my civil ceremony?
This varies depending on the registrars conducting your marriage. Often, as long as you and your partner exchange the necessary legal words, you can adapt and personalise your civil ceremony as much as you like, with ring promises or extended vows.
6. Can I have music at my civil ceremony?
You should be able to add music and readings into your civil ceremony. You can’t, however, have any music or readings of religious origin – so no Bible verses or hymns. Incidental references to religion are fine though, so you should get away with Robbie Williams’ Angels! Just check with your registrar.
7. Can I have a glass of champagne during a civil ceremony?
No. As marriage is a solemn occasion, so there legally can’t be food or drink in the ceremony room before or during the ceremony. As soon as the civil ceremony ends, the champagne can be poured!
8. My venue has a beautiful garden. Can I have a civil ceremony outside?
Civil ceremonies have to take place in a permanent structure, so if you’re marrying outside, it will need to be in a licensed structure such as a bandstand or gazebo. You can’t legally marry in a marquee or under a temporary archway. However, your registrars might let you say the legal words and sign the marriage register indoors, and then hold the ceremony outdoors. You could also have a blessing outside with your guests and the legal ceremony indoors. You’ll have to ask them about their policy.
9. I’ve heard that celebrants can do weddings outside. Should I just get married by a celebrant?
Ceremonies conducted by celebrants are a lot more flexible with regards to wording and location than civil ceremonies. However, they’re not legally binding. If you choose to have a ceremony conducted by celebrant, you will still need to be married by a registrar in a civil ceremony in order for your marriage to be legal.
10. Do we need to exchange rings in a civil ceremony?
No. You can leave this part out altogether, or even exchange another symbol of commitment with one another (again, check with the registrar!).
11. I’d like my dog to be my ring bearer. Is this allowed?
This will depend on the policy at the local register office. Some offices are happy to have dogs, birds, and even drones bring the rings down the aisle.
Special thanks to Freya at A Day To Remember for helping answer these frequently asked questions. If you’re looking for more advice on your civil ceremony, then take a look at our sample civil ceremony here!
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