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When is a UK ceremony recognised by law?

Under UK law, other than in a few exceptions, the only places you can legally get married are in a Christian church or a licenced building. There are exceptions which relate to Jewish, Quaker or ’emergency’ weddings.  All these weddings must also be run by a licensed officiant. Other religious ceremonies are not legally binding.

Any other ceremonies either those without a licensed officiant and/or held at a non licensed venue are considered non legal. In order for those marriages to be legally binding the couple must also have a separate legal ceremony, normally a scaled down registry office ceremony.

Celebrants are generally not licensed officiants but they offer the professionalism of a registrar, with extra flexibility to the ceremony content, and of course location.

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If a venue is licensed can we get legally married anywhere on the site?

At licensed venues only set rooms will be available for use for the ceremony and each will have a maximum occupancy, which includes yourself and any suppliers along with guests, as set by the local authority.

Even if your chosen room is licensed you must still have a licensed officiant for the ceremony to be legally recognised.

 

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I’m an outdoor bride & I want to be married outside, can that be done legally?

Yes and no is the answer! As the law currently applies, for a wedding to be legally binding it must still take place in a licenced building. This though can include gazebos, summer houses and more. A venue can apply for any permanent structure to be licensed on the presumption that the couple and the registrars can occupy it for the duration of the ceremony. For example the gazebo at Penton Park (see main image above) is now adorned by a permanent roof and is licensed for ceremonies.

If though you want to be married in the middle of a field, on the (safe) edge of a cliff, or even on a lake, then no you can’t currently be legally married there, unless there just happens to be a permanent licensed structure!

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Can I get married in a building that is special to me? For example my family home?

You can currently only be legally married in a licensed venue. So it may be the building is licensed (check with your local authority for a full list) then great, but if it’s a private building, for example a family home, it almost certainly will not.

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I’ve seen people getting married outdoors how are they doing that?

Admit it, you’ve been watching don’t tell the bride? They are certainly great examples of some of the extremes you can go to!

Non legal ceremonies can be performed anywhere, by anyone, at anytime, but it’s very popular, and often wise to use a trained celebrant. There is no need to be ordained by a random internet church (America anyone?!) as the ceremony isn’t binding. Either choose a professional, or someone who means a lot to you and your partner. 

These couples will have organised a legally binding ceremony either just prior or after the larger gathering, although there is no official timescale you have to abide by.

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Can having a non legal ceremony save me money or will it cost more as there are two ceremonies?

A great question and yes it can save you money depending on your location and your options.

For example Southampton City Council offer a ‘no frills’ ceremony, whereby it is a paper exercise. No readings, no extras, two witnesses and the bit of paper for a grand total of £68! I’ve heard other areas to offer ceremonies for as low as £35 (not including notice and home office fees). In contrast a registrar attending a licenced venue often costs in the region of £500.

Although if you choose a celebrant (an often sensible choice) there will be associated costs, the venue itself will often be cheaper as they will not be factoring wedding licensing costs in to their customer pricing.

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What are the benefits of having a non legal ceremony?

Most of the advantages are stated above but to summarise

  •  Save money – a budget registry office ceremony and friend led non legal ceremony can save hundreds
  • Get ‘married’ anywhere you want. Public, private (with permission), inside, outside or even under water!
  • The officiant of your choice – Friend, family, celebrant, celebrity, the choices are endless!
  • More flexibility on ceremony timings. Although old legislation restricting legal ceremony times from 8am-6pm was removed in 2012, not all local authorities or churches will allow for ‘out of hours’ ceremonies.
  • You can be fashionably late which you can’t for a registrar!
  • You can include religious elements which you can’t for a registrar led ceremony. Perfect for same sex couples that can’t marry in a church but want to incorporate their religious beliefs.

 It is important to note as discussed that if you wish your wedding to be legal you must have a separate legal ceremony even if of the no frills variety. There is a urban myth that ‘common law’ marriage exists offering couples protection but this is false.

 

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Why can’t just anyone conduct a legal ceremony?

British law as it stands requires both a licensed building and officiant. The law commission is currently conducting a consultation to investigate the options of reforming the law to allow more venues and or officiants to hold legal ceremonies.

The change if it happens won’t happen for a good few years still but is stepping in the right direction. There is a good chance we might see a similar framework to the US where it’s the officiant that is licensed and not the venue which would give such a broader scope of possibilities. If and when this happens you would be able to truly have your wedding your way!

If you would like to read more visit the Law commision’s website concerning wedding reform

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