Everything you need to know about marriage in the United Kingdom

11 Feb 2023·20 min to read
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The United Kingdom is an island nation in northwestern Europe, consisting of England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. There are over 400,000 marriages in the UK annually, and because the nation is made up of different constituent countries, there are different laws and practices guiding marriage. 

The UK is known for its rich history, culture, and tradition. There are various attractions that make the country perfect for destination weddings, from Blenheim Palace to the Alnwick Garden, Clearwell Castle, and Cornwall. Marriages in the UK are either civil or religious ceremonies. A lot of couples usually do both ceremonies one after the other. Civil marriages are held in the registrar’s office or an approved place. 

Religious marriages in the UK vary depending on the church denomination and belief of the couples getting married. Couples can get married by having a Roman Catholic ceremony or an Anglican, Quaker, or Jewish ceremony. These ceremonies have some unique features that make them stand apart from each other. Same-sex couples are allowed to convert their civil partnerships into marriage in England and Wales. However, these marriages only have civil ceremonies as they cannot be held in the church. Read on as we touch on every important aspect of marriages in the UK and all you need to know.

Marriages in England and Wales

Most marriages in England and Wales usually have both civil and religious ceremonies. Both opposite-sex and same-sex couples can hold a civil marriage ceremony and be legally recognized as married. Over the years, the procedures for marriages as well as the laws guiding them have changed in England and Wales, and the way civil marriages are conducted is quite different from the practices of a religious ceremony. 

Civil marriages are conducted by an appointed register of the state and they can be held in an approved venue or the registrar's office, whereas religious marriages are conducted by a religious celebrant. The minimum age of any person getting married in England and Wales is 18 years, and there are certain laws guiding who a person is allowed to marry. In the country, one is not permitted to marry relatives, and before married couples can be fully recognized and protected by law, they must have carried out all the necessary requirements.

Marriage Traditions in England and Wales

Religious marriages are conducted by an officiating priest, minister, or other authorized celebrant. Before marriages can be legally recognized by law, the couples must have at least two witnesses, and the marriage register must be signed by the appointed registrar. Religious marriages take place in the places of worship of both or either of the couples, where Catholic ceremonies are held in the local church and Jewish ceremonies take place in synagogues.

 Most of the most popular marriage traditions are based on religious ceremonies with pre-wedding, wedding, and post-wedding rites. The pre-wedding rites usually involve a bachelor and bachelorette party. The bachelor party is referred to as a "stag party" in Britain, and it is usually planned by the groom’s best man or closest brother. The same goes for the bachelorette (Hen do) party, where the bride’s maid of honor throws her a party to celebrate her soon-to-come married life. The nights of these parties are usually wild with celebration and loud music from the pubs, clubs, etc., where close friends have fun and try to embarrass the bride or groom getting married. 

Next, comes the actual wedding day, and there are some customs and superstitions held by people. It is believed that bad luck is signified when a groom sees his bride on the wedding day before the service. The wedding ceremony usually involves a wedding party of family and friends, bridesmaids, and groomsmen. The bride is usually dressed in a white or cream-colored wedding gown, while the groom opts for a sharp suit. The wedding ceremony sees the exchange of vows and rings, and the couples can get their marriage signed at the registrar's office. 

The post-wedding ceremony is held shortly after the wedding and involves a wedding reception where guests celebrate the couples with drinks, music, food, and dancing. The guests usually leave various gifts for the couples and wish them happiness in their union. The groom, the bride’s father, and the best man are required to give a speech based on traditions. After the reception is concluded, the couples then go on their honeymoon, which is a vacation to celebrate their marriage.

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Marriages in Northern Ireland

Marriages held in Northern Ireland have traditions that have been passed down through several generations. In Northern Ireland, the minimum legal age to get married is 16 years, provided there is parental consent. The minimum legal age without parental consent is 18 years. Marriage in the country must be held between two people that are unmarried and are not in any current civil partnership with a resident or foreigner. Same-sex marriages are also recognized with equal rights as opposite-sex marriages. 

The ceremonial rites of marriage in Northern Ireland are quite similar to those in England and Wales. Couples are allowed to hold the ceremony in locations of their choice with an authorized officiant. There are some traditions in Irish weddings that must be followed by the couple and the wedding party, as the ceremony is never complete without them. Some of these traditions are stated below.

Something New

This tradition is used to signify a new chapter in the bride’s life. It serves as a source of hope in her life and the future she will share with her husband. It is usually the bride’s gown or exchanged rings.

Something borrowed

This represents good fortune and usually involves the bride borrowing something from a happily married couple to pass on their happiness to them.

Something old

The tradition is used to represent continuity where the bride’s family presents an item to her to let her know they will always make themselves available to her 

Something blue

The blue color represents fidelity and the purity of love. Many brides wear a blue ornament such as a bow or ribbon on their dress.

Handfasting (Tying the knot)

Here, the wrists of the groom and bride are tied together using twine. This tradition is used to represent the bond between the couples and their long-lasting love.

Wedding Veil

This is a tradition that is still very popular to date. It is said that the veil is used to hide the bride’s beauty and also get rid of evil spirits, though some others may use it for arranged marriages. Here, the bride’s face was to remain covered until the groom committed to marrying her.

The Giving of a Horseshoe

This tradition is used to represent good luck in the lives of the couples. The female members of the family usually give the horseshoe to the bride.

Scotland Marriages

In Scotland, marriages are conducted in both civil and religious ceremonies by an authorized celebrant or registrar. In California, the minimum legal age for marriage is 16 years old, and unlike in Northern Ireland, there is no parental consent needed for this. Same-sex marriages are allowed in Scotland, and it grants couples the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities enjoyed by opposite-sex marriages. Couples are expected to submit forms of marriage notice to their local registrar. 
Scottish marriage ceremonies have some rites and customs that make them unique. Some of these traditions are stated below.


This is a popular tradition that originated several decades ago during the time of war. Nowadays, most Scottish weddings have a piper to bring beauty and luck to their ceremony.

The traditional Grand March

This is the first dance by the groom and bride that takes place during the wedding reception The live band plays the kind of music the couples want, and they take to the dance floor to display their moves. Shortly after, the bridesmaids and groomsmen can join in, followed by the rest of the wedding train and guests.

The Wedding Scramble

The bride's father throws coins for the children as the bride is about to enter the car. The children usually have to scramble for the coins, and this tradition is said to bring wealth and financial good fortune to the family and newlyweds.

The Sark of the Wedding

This tradition involves the exchange of gift items by the groom and bride. The couples are required to buy outfits from each other. The bride buys the wedding sark, or shirt, of the groom, and he buys her wedding gown.

Civil Marriages

This type of marriage ceremony is conducted by a state-appointed registrar. The couples planning to get married must give notice of marriage at the local registrar’s office in their district. If the couples live in different places, they both have to go to the local offices in their respective districts. A 28-day notice must be given to the Registrar’s office before a marriage takes place in England or Wales. Both partners must have been residents of England or Wales for a minimum of 7 days before the time the notice is submitted, and they must get married within 12 months of submitting their marriage notice. 
There are some documents that are required in civil marriages.

Proof of birth date:
Proof of name and address 
Evidence of no obstruction to marriage, such as previous marriages or civil partnerships 
Evidence of nationality

For both citizens and foreigners planning to get married in the UK, the submission of passports is not a legal requirement, although a birth certificate or any other personal identity document may be. The civil marriage ceremony itself is usually concluded within a short period of time, usually about 15 minutes. There are standard vows that are required by the couples to repeat to each other, and the partners are asked to make a statement by the superintendent registrar. The exchange of rings is optional in a civil wedding ceremony. 

There must be at least two witnesses present before the couples sign the marriage register. Partners are expected to go through the register to ensure all the information is correct before proceeding to sign it. There are no age limits attached to the people who serve as witnesses, and this decision is up to the couples. The couples are expected to pay a registrar’s fee, which varies depending on one’s local registrar’s office.

Religious Marriages

Religious marriages are done according to the beliefs and traditions of couples in their places of worship. Churches in England and Wales are allowed to register marriages during the religious ceremony. Minters, priests, and other officiants need to receive authorization from the local superintendent registrar and have a license or certificate to show for it. 

The celebrants of Jewish and Quaker marriages are usually automatically authorized. In the case of other religions where the officiant may not be authorized, a registrar must be present during the ceremony or the couples must do both the civil and religious weddings accordingly. The rest of the marriage traditions depend on the beliefs of the couples, their regions, and communities where different rites and parties may be held by the couples as well as family and friends. These traditions were explained earlier in this article. The majority of wedding ceremonies conclude with a honeymoon in the couple's preferred destination.

Invalid UK Marriages

There are certain laws and practices guiding marriages in the United Kingdom, and when these laws are not followed, the marriage is rendered invalid. Such marriages are known as invalid. One of the marriage laws in the UK is that certain relatives are not allowed to get married. In instances where this happens, the marriage is void by law. 

Annulments and gender changes may also make a marriage invalid. These are known as voidable marriages. In a situation whereby a person changes their gender, the marriage may become void. Also, if it is discovered that a partner got into a marriage without their consent or was forced to do so, the marriage can be annulled and rendered void. Both partners are allowed to get an annulment to terminate the marriage, thereby making it invalid.

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Marriage Laws, Rights, Costs, and Duties

Laws and Rights

The legal laws and rights in the UK that govern marriages largely depend on whether the partners are living together or not. A living together agreement can be made by couples Each partner is entitled to their respective assets and the other partner cannot access the assets or income of the other except if permission is given. If the couples operate a joint account, both couples have access to it regardless of who pays into it. In the case of the death of a spouse, any accounts or properties owned together by the couple are automatically transferred to the other partner. 

The wife and husband have equal rights and the responsibilities towards each other and their household can be decided upon after a mutual agreement. The wife has a right to share the assets of the husband and register her name alongside her spouse on properties if permitted to do so.


Traditional marriages in the UK cost anywhere between £20,000 and £30,000. These prices are dependent on the extent of rites carried out before, during, and after the wedding as well as the number of guests involved in the ceremony. Some of the major items that make up the wedding cost are catering, transportation, entertainment, decorations, and dresses. 
Civil marriages are less expensive since parties and various traditions are not involved. The total fees to be paid during a civil marriage are usually less than a total of £300.


There are no strict laws hiding the duties and obligations shouldered by the husband and wife in a marriage. There are only general duties that are expected of partners in a relationship towards each other and their children, if applicable. 

The husband is expected to cater to his wife and children. This includes the provision of basic necessities of life, from food to clothing and shelter. The wife is expected to take care of the household and care for her husband and children. Equality is paramount, and the husband and wife can come to a mutual agreement on the roles they want to take on.

In Summary

Marriages in the United Kingdom have a distinct manner in which they are performed. Civil marriages make up about half of all UK marriages. Not every couple opts for religious and traditional wedding ceremonies, especially those that are not religious. Same-sex marriages hold the same rights and responsibilities as opposite-sex marriages, but these ceremonies cannot take place in England or Wales. 

The minimum legal age for marriage and the documents or other requirements varies from country to country. Foreigners can also hold their marriages in the UK, which is quite popular as the country is a top location for destination weddings. There are certain documents that must be in place for foreigners to get married. This article includes everything you need to know about getting married in the United Kingdom.