Bishop & Sewell

The Law Commission is still consulting on provisional proposals to reform the law governing how and where couples can get married, writes Louise Barretto, Head of our Family Law team.

I have written previously about the quirks in English law that restrict where a couple might marry. However the Law Commission’s consultation period which started in September was originally set to close on 3 December has been extended, and will now run until 4 January 2021.

If you’re interested in reading or possibly participating in the consultation these downloads might be helpful:

The problem

The main law which governs marriage is from 1836 and has failed to keep pace with modern life. How and where marriages can take place is tightly regulated, and differs depending on the type of wedding.

At present, couples have to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. Couples having an Anglican wedding can give notice to the church; all other couples must give notice at the register office. With few exceptions, all couples must have their wedding either in a place of worship or licenced secular venue, and cannot marry outdoors or even in the garden of a licenced venue.

If a couple does not comply with the legal requirements, which may happen with some religious ceremonies, their marriage may not be legally recognised. People often only discover their lack of legal status at the time of relationship breakdown. This means the parties have no legal status or protection and are not counted as married.

The possible solutions

The Law Commission is proposing a comprehensive new legislative scheme to update the law governing each aspect of the process of getting married. To modernise and improve wedding law, our proposals include changes that would:

Allow weddings to take place outdoors, for example on beaches, in parks, in private gardens and on the grounds of current wedding venues.

Allow weddings to take place in a wider variety of buildings (for example in private homes) and on cruise ships.

Offer couples greater flexibility over the form their wedding ceremonies will take, enabling them, if they desire, to use a variety of ceremonies (religious and non-religious) to mark their weddings.

Simplify the process and remove unnecessary red tape to make it fair to couples, more efficient, and easier to follow. For example, couples will be able to complete the initial stage of giving notice of their intended wedding online or by post, rather than having to do so in person.

Provide a framework that could allow non-religious belief organisations (such as Humanists) and/or independent celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings.

Ensure that fewer weddings conducted according to religious rites result in a marriage that the law does not recognise at all.

You can respond to the consultation, too

There’s a YouTube presentation of an overview of their provisional proposals here.

Written submissions to the consultation can be sent via their online response form. Alternatively, comments may be sent by email to

Good luck.

Our Family lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have rankings in the Legal 500 and Chambers & Partners for their expertise.

If you need some advice and support, please get in touch via or call us direct on +44(0)20 7091 2869. We are here for you.

The above is accurate as at 15 December 2020. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.

Category: News | Date: 15th Dec 2020

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