As at Monday (12 April) the Government in England confirmed that weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are now allowed to take place with up to 15 people in Covid secure venues, but what are the legal requirements for getting married in England? Well, they are complicated. The Marriage Act 1949 provides the current law:
1. Both parties must be at least 16 years old - and if between the age of 16 and 18 years old they will need permission from the parent(s)/guardian(s) who have parental responsibility for them;
2. Both parties must not already be married or in a civil partnership;
3. Both parties cannot be closely related, i.e. a child, a parent, a sibling/half-sibling, an aunt/uncle, a grandparent, a grandchild, a sibling's/half-sibling's child;
4. Notice needs to be given; and
5. Depending on whether you are having a civil marriage or a religious marriage there are additional requirements, for example the number of witnesses that need to be present, where the marriage can take place (you must marry in either a licensed secular venue or place of worship) and what must be said during the ceremony.
If the law is not complied with in full then a marriage may be considered void and upon separation it will be as though the marriage did not take place. This can have adverse financial consequences as it is important to remember there is no concept in England and Wales of a “common law” marriage.
The Law Commission is in the process of conducting a public consultation to reform the law of marriage in England and Wales. The consultation closed on 4 January 2021 and the Law Commission's report setting out its recommendations is expected in the second half of 2021. It will be interesting what the recommendations are. The Law Commission hopes that their recommendations will provide: "certainty and simplicity, fairness and equality, protection of the state’s interest, respect of individuals’ wishes and beliefs and to remove any unnecessary regulation, so as to increase the choice and lower the cost of wedding venues for couples".
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted to take place with up to 15 people in COVID-19 secure venues that are permitted to open or where a broader exemption applies.