How to ensure your marriage is legally recognised

13 Jan 2022

Filomena Sterkaj is a senior solicitor at Stowe Family Law and here, she shares how to ensure your wedding follows the necessary legalities

Image Samantha Gades via Unsplash

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We all know that the wedding scene has been a bit touch and go for the last few years. With the onslaught of Covid-19 in its varying forms, couples planning their weddings have been thrown into the lurch, postponing their nuptials under government guidelines, or having much smaller affairs than they had originally planned.

Things are – thankfully – starting to get back to normal. However, the trend for alternative weddings and those held outdoors, continues to thrive.

Modern family structures mean that for many couples, the traditional marriage institution is no longer relevant.

The experts at Stowe Family Law recently conducted a survey on changing notions around marriage and the impact this is having on the wedding industry. Young people, in particular, see traditional marriage and weddings as outdated. Priorities are shifting, but this has meant that the landscape of non-traditional weddings is becoming more exciting.


Image by Leonardo Miranda via Unsplash

Non-traditional weddings

The notion of a big, white wedding is actually quite a recent phenomenon. Fifty years ago, the wedding industry looked very different, and a small, quiet affair tended to be the norm. In many cases, the shift over the last few years towards alternative weddings looks a lot like this.

What do is meant by 'alternative' or 'non-traditional’ weddings? In reality, this is a bit of a catch-all term which covers everything from the couple seeing each other for a first look before the ceremony takes place, to humanist wedding ceremonies. There has been a considerable rise in couples choosing to take different paths, particularly since civil partnerships were made legal for opposite sex couples at the end of 2019.

For some, this is financially beneficial. Having a non-traditional wedding where you don’t get married in a church or have a finger food buffet instead of a sit-down meal of three courses, can be cheaper for couples looking to save cash.

Humanist weddings can take place anywhere, and in any format, and those who don’t have a particular religious leaning are choosing these kinds of ceremonies. They can be tailored completely to the individual requests of the couple and can look very different to a traditional wedding but will cater to the personalities of the couple.


Image by Blake Cheek via Unsplash

What is a legal wedding? 

Legally, a venue must be licensed for you to be officially married in it. You can get married anywhere, but your marriage will not be legally recognised if it takes place in an unlicensed location.

At the moment, the best option if you want a wedding in an unlicensed venue, is to have a registry office wedding or a civil partnership ceremony performed in addition.

The Law Commission is investigating the outdated marriage laws and will publish a final report of recommendations to the Government in July 2022. A reformed law will allow couples greater flexibility within a consistent and fair legal structure and will keep up with modern life and family.


Image by In Lieu In View Photography via Unsplash

Top tips

It is important to remember a few things if you’re looking to plan your dream alternative wedding, and be married in the eyes of the law, too:

  • Humanist weddings can take place anywhere, but you cannot legally be married by a humanist celebrant. The best idea is to have a registry office wedding or a civil partnership if you prefer as a quieter affair before your humanist ceremony.
  • If you have big dreams for your wedding and want to get married on a cliff top or on the beach, go for it! Remember to check whether the venue is licensed if you want your marriage to be legally recognised.
  • Civil partnerships have been legal for opposite sex couples since the end of December 2019.
  • Same sex marriage has been legal in the UK since 2014.

If you're unsure about the legalities surrounding your dream wedding, speak to your chosen venue team who will be best placed to advise you. 

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