What Makes Marriage Legal

You’ve met your soulmate, fallen head over heels in love with each other, and made the decision to marry. What, however, is required for a marriage to be considered legally binding?


Whether you are looking to have a civil or religious ceremony, religious marriage ceremony, civil ceremony, church wedding or marry in a registered office, a person should have the mental capacity to consent to the marriage, be at least 18 years old and not already married or in a civil partnership.

For a Church of England wedding, one of you must also be baptised and the other must be a member of the Anglican Church. You will also need to give your parish priest proof that you are free to marry, called a Common Licence, which you can obtain from your local Registrar. (Proof of identity will also be required in order to obtain a marriage licence and appear on the marriage register.)

There are many religions and cultures around the world that have their own unique marriage traditions and customs, but let’s understand how it works in the UK and how it is deemed a valid marriage in the eyes of English law.

Legal Requirements


A legal marriage in the UK must take place in a registered building, and you must give notice to the local authority of your intention to marry no later than 28 days before the ceremony.

The notice you give must contain certain information about you and your partner, including your full names, addresses, dates and places of birth, nationality, occupation and previous marital status.

You will also need to show evidence of your identity, for example with a passport, and pay a fee. Once the local authority has received your notice, they will issue you with a marriage schedule.

Three clear weeks before your wedding date, you must both attend a meeting with the registrar to discuss the ceremony and sign the marriage schedule in front of a witness(es).

On the day of your wedding, the registrar will arrive at the agreed venue to carry out the ceremony. Both you and your partner, as well as two witnesses, must be present.

After the ceremony, the registrar will issue you with a marriage certificate as proof that you are now legally married.

Why Is It Necessary For Your Marriage To Be Legally Recognised?


There are several reasons why you may want your relationship to be legally recognised, including:

Change of Surname

To solidify a commitment between two people

If you want to take your partner’s surname, or double-barrel your surnames, you will need to have a legal marriage certificate as proof of your change of name.

This can be useful for things such as bank accounts, passports, driving licences and so on.

For Immigration Purposes

If you are not a British citizen but wish to live in the UK with your British partner, you will need to go through the Spouse Visa application process.

One of the requirements of this visa is that you must be married to a British citizen or person with settled status in the UK. Therefore, if you are not married, you will not be able to apply for this visa.

There are other immigration routes available if you are not married to a British citizen, but being married will simplify the process and give you more options.

Property Rights

To ensure that your possessions and financial affairs are in good order when you die.

In the UK a legal marriage conveys certain property rights between spouses. For example, if you own your home jointly with your partner as ‘joint tenants’, then on your death your partner will automatically inherit your share of the property.

If, however, you own your home as ‘tenants in common’, then you can leave your share of the property to whomever you wish in your will.

If you are not married, then your partner will not automatically inherit anything from you if you die. It is therefore advisable to make a will regardless of whether you are married or not.

Financial Matters

To be eligible for certain benefits or tax credits

Another reason why it may be beneficial for your marriage to be recognised legally is for financial matters. For example, married couples are entitled to certain tax breaks and benefits, such as the married couples’ allowance.

There are also some circumstances in which a legal marriage may be necessary in order to access certain benefits, such as a state pension.

Making your marriage legal can also have an impact on your financial affairs in the event of your death. For example, if you die without a will, your spouse will inherit your estate (property, money and possessions) according to certain rules.

If you are not married, then your partner will not automatically inherit anything from you if you die, so it’s always advisable to make a will regardless of whether you are married or not, to help protect the future of your loved ones.

Protecting Your Children

To give your children security

To ensure that your children will be looked after if something happens to you and your partner, it is important that your marriage is legally recognised.

If you are not married, then your partner will not automatically have parental responsibility for your children. This means that they may not be able to make decisions about their welfare, such as what school they go to or whether they should have medical treatment.

Related: Can I take my child on holiday if I am separated?

Getting married can also help to protect your children’s inheritance. For example, if you die without a will, your spouse will automatically inherit your estate (property, money and possessions) according to certain rules.

This may not be the outcome you would have desired, and so it’s always advisable to make a will regardless of whether you are married or not, in order to ensure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

These are just a few of the reasons why you may wish to marry legally. Of course, you may opt for a non-governmental or spiritual wedding instead, but it’s vital to understand the distinction between a legal marriage and ones that are not recognised by the law.

When Is A Marriage Not Legal?


Commitment ceremonies are usually performed when two people want to make a public declaration of their love and commitment to each other without going through the legal process of getting married.

Commitment ceremonies aren’t legally binding, (unlike a wedding ceremony), and differ in that they don’t sign a marriage register, submit paperwork or receive a marriage certificate.

Good To Know

If you would like to get married in the UK, the first step is to contact the local authority for the area in which you live to find out how to give notice of your intention to marry and what fees apply. Once you have done this, you can start making plans for your big day!


Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether or not you choose to get married – there is no legal obligation to do so.

Some couples in England and Wales prefer to live together without getting married (unmarried couples), while others may have religious or personal reasons for not wanting to take this step.

However, if you do want to get married, it’s important to be aware of the legal requirements and implications. By understanding the process and what is required of you, you can ensure that your marriage is legal and binding.

Contact Us

Whether you have questions about religious ceremonies, post-nuptial agreement(s), religious marriage ceremonies, polygamous marriage(s) or other religious marriages, Dickinson Parker Hill can help.

Our Family Law experts are up to date with the latest legal requirements and can help you to understand and offer advice, on issues such as relationship breakdown(s), how to void marriage(s), divorce procedures and how to protect families, a single child and young people or other family members that may get caught up on such family law issues.

Call our office on 01695 574201 or send an email to info@dphlaw.co.uk. You can also complete the online enquiry form.

Dickinson Parker Hill Solicitors in Ormskirk, are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.