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Marriage Law News

March 2020

This note is intended to update the position set out in our news item posted on 18th March following further guidance issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York after the Prime Minister’s Address to the Nation on Monday 23rd March and advice from the Church of England.  It will seek to address some common questions which the Faculty Office has been receiving since the Covid-19 restrictions have been introduced and which weren’t covered in our earlier item which can still be viewed below.

Can weddings still go ahead?   Sadly there can be no weddings taking place in church buildings until further notice.   A wedding requires a minimum of five people to be present and this exceeds the numbers which the Government restrictions currently permit to gather together in one place.

What about emergency weddings in hospital, hospice or at home?  The Faculty Office will continue to facilitate the issue of a Special Marriage Licence for a Church of England/Church in Wales wedding to proceed in a hospital, hospice or at home where one of the parties is terminally ill (whether through Covid-19 or otherwise).   Clearly, any decision to proceed with a wedding in these circumstances will, as always, be one for the clergy and parties and will need to be based upon medical advice and with social distancing policies and guidance applied as regard the officiant and witnesses. The permission of the hospital or hospice authorities will always be required in writing. Clergy or others enquiring about a wedding in these circumstances are invited to use the contact form (click here) in the first instance for further advice.

We were seeking to establish a Qualifying Connection through habitual attendance at public worship but cannot continue as there are no services taking place – what can we do?  For many couples who don’t already have the legal entitlement to be married in the church where they wish to be married, the way to attain that entitlement is to attend services in the parish at least once a month for a period of six months or more.  Now that services have been suspended for a season, many couples who have not been able to attend for six months already will be concerned that they are unable to complete their ‘qualifying attendance’. However, where they have already started to attend and are only prevented from maintaining attendance due to the suspension of services, provided that couples resume as soon as services are able to resume, the ‘gap’ will still be capable of counting towards their ‘habitual attendance at public worship for six months or more’.

Where couples have been prevented from starting their attendance period due to the suspension of services, the situation is quite different as the six month period can only start from the date of the first actual attendance at public worship. If there is then insufficient time for couples to create the qualifying connection between services resuming and their intended wedding date, an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Marriage Licence is likely to be required.   Whilst every application for a Special Licence is considered on its own merits, the Faculty Office will be very sympathetic where couples have shown a willingness and commitment to create a qualifying connection with their chosen church and have been prevented from doing so solely due to the suspension of public worship. Although ‘attendance’ at any virtual or live streamed acts of worship cannot be said to be attending public worship sufficient to count towards a qualifying connection, couples are encouraged to participate in such services as are available in the parish through social media or other channels.

Is the Faculty Office still open to callers?    Our offices in Westminster are currently closed and all the staff are working from home in accordance with Government advice.  We are having our post re-directed, so all the time postal deliveries are able to continue, post will be received although there may be some delays.    The best way to contact us is by email at faculty.office@1thesanctuary.com

The staff of the Faculty Office can also be contacted by phone:

For general special licence enquiries: 0207 960 7162

For specific enquiries on marriage law or Covid-19 related issues Neil Turpin: 0207 960 7126 – neil.turpin@1thesanctuary.com

For emergency marriage queries: Patrick Roberts: 0207 960 7130 – Patrick.roberts@1thesanctuary.com or Susan Black: 0207 960 7152 – susan.black@1thesanctuary.com

On 17th March, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York published a joint letter and on the same date a pastoral declaration was issued by the Bench of Bishops of the Church in Wales both stating that, in the light of Government advice, all church services and gatherings for public worship should no longer take place for the time being.  A number of questions have arisen around Banns of Marriage and Weddings and this note seeks to answer those in general terms.  Clergy and couples with specific questions should contact their own Diocesan Registry.  The staff of the Faculty Office are also available to assist.

Banns of Marriage can only be called within the context of the principal service of public worship in a parish church on a Sunday.   Given that there will be no public worship taking place, Banns cannot be called.  Banns cannot be called via a ‘live-streamed’ or ‘virtual service’ to a wider digital community but with no congregation physically present nor by any form of ‘public notice’ on the door of a parish church.

For any wedding where Banns of Marriage have not been completed, and where the couple, in consultation with the Minister, do not wish to postpone their wedding (see below), a Common Marriage Licence will normally be required to authorise the marriage.  Clergy and couples should talk to their relevant Diocesan Registry.   A Common Marriage Licence is normally available if a couple would have been able to marry by banns.  Common Marriage Licences are valid for three months from the date on which they are issued.

Alternatively, a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate might be available.   This is a civil marriage preliminary issued through the local Registry Office but which can still authorise a marriage in the Church of England or Church in Wales but only for couples where one, or both, live in the Parish where the wedding is to take place or where the Parish Church is their usual place of worship (usually evidenced by being on the church electoral roll).  A Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate cannot be issued where the couple have a Qualifying Connection to a parish (under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 or the Marriage (Wales) Act 2010) unless one or both of the couple are non-UK/EEA/Swiss Nationals – in which case the SRC is the only marriage preliminary available.  Note, however, that there is normally a 28-day Notice period between the giving of Notice of Intended Marriage and the issue of an SRC so this is not a quick fix.  Once issued, an SRC is valid for twelve months from the date on which Notice was given.

Special Marriage Licences are issued from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Faculty Office. If the options set out above are not available and if all else fails, the Faculty Office is able to grant a Special Marriage Licence for a marriage to take place at any convenient time or place in England or Wales. The issue of a special Licence is discretionary. Please make an early enquiry with the Faculty Office if you think a special licence will be needed. Although Special Marriage Licences are normally issued with a three month period of validity, in view of the Coronavirus the Faculty Office is currently issuing licences with a one year validity period to permit greater flexibility. 

Weddings – where Banns of Marriage have been completed, the marriage must be solemnized within three calendar months from the last publication. After three months the publication of Banns becomes void. The Banns will either need to be re-read, or if that is not possible, another preliminary for the marriage – common or special licence or superintendent registrar’s certificate (see above) – will be needed.

Unless the Government changes the law, the common law right of parishioners and those with a Qualifying Connection to be married in a parish church remains. However, the date, time and other arrangements are, legally speaking, for the minister to determine. It is for the minister, in consultation with the couple, to make a decision about how or whether the marriage can take place during the Coronavirus outbreak. It would also be for the minister to prescribe any conditions if the wedding was to go ahead in his or her church, such as a limit on numbers to ensure social distancing.

The Church of England’s advice is that wedding services can take place but subject to the rules and guidance on social distancing.  Any wedding in church would need to be on a very small scale.   Only five people need be present at a marriage service: the couple, and the clergy person, plus two witnesses.

The Church in Wales’ guidance states that weddings scheduled until 31July 2020 should be postponed and any fees already paid refunded.  Couples with a later wedding date should be free to cancel/rearrange without financial penalty.   If for pressing pastoral reasons a wedding must take place, it should be solemnized with a maximum of ten persons present – the five who are required to be present (see above) and up to five others.

What if the officiating minister or couple fall sick?  Arrangements should be made to ensure that there is a back-up Anglican member of the clergy with a licence or permission to officiate in case the officiating minister is required to pull-out due to sickness. A lay person or a minister of another Christian church cannot officiate in the place of the Anglican member of the clergy. If the couple fall sick, serious consideration should be given to whether the wedding should proceed. That would be a matter to be risk-assessed in view of all the relevant information at the time.

The above advice is of a general nature intended for clergy and couples and addresses some of the key issues.  This note is considered to be correct as of 18th March 2020

August 2019

You may already be aware that the way in which marriages are registered is set to change following the passing into law of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 which, as well as providing for opposite-sex couples to be able to enter into civil partnerships, will allow for mother’s names to be included in Marriage Registers as well as/in place of father’s names. It also makes provision for significant changes in the way that marriages are registered.

Representatives of the Faculty Office and the Legal Offices of the Church of England and Church in Wales have been in discussion with the General Register Office (GRO) about the proposed changes which they under pressure from Government Ministers to bring into effect as soon as possible – and despite our collective representations, the GRO are currently proposing to bring in the changes before the end of the year*. A number of issues remain to be resolved including the provision of a workable secure system to produce the new documentation and time to train the 20,000+ clergy who are able to conduct weddings in both Churches.

In essence the proposals will replace Marriage Registers and Marriage Certificates (issued at the time of the wedding) with a Marriage Document which will be prepared by the officiating priest before the wedding. At the ceremony, the Marriage Document will be signed by the couple, their witnesses and the officiating priest (in much the same way as the Registers are currently). The significant difference is that the couple will then need to ensure that the Marriage Document is deposited at the local Register Office within 7* days of the date of the wedding and the local Superintendent Registrar will then record the details and issue the couple with a Marriage Certificate (for which there will be a fee). The couple can ask someone to lodge the Marriage Document on their behalf (as in many cases they will, of course, be on honeymoon!) but it is their responsibility, NOT the officiating minister’s responsibility, to ensure that it is done.

As an interim measure, the Marriage Document will be available in a number of formats, including a manual format and a ‘type and print’ facility. The Regulations envisage that eventually there will be a secure online portal to which clergy will require access as there is provision for couples to be reminded by email from the General Register Office if they have not lodged the Document within the required period.

For marriages that currently take place by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates, the SRC will be replaced by a “Marriage Schedule” which will be produced by the Register Office taking Notice of the Marriage and that Schedule will then be signed by all the parties including the officiating priest once the marriage has taken place and, again, will have to be lodged with the Register Office within 7* days.

Immediately following implementation, the existing marriage register books held in churches will need to be closed. The incumbent, or in a vacancy the Area/Rural Dean, will be responsible for closing the registers by striking through any unused entry spaces. One copy of the register will then need to be returned to the local Superintendent Registrar together with any unused marriage certificate stock. The other copy of the register is to be retained in the church until such time as it is to be deposited in the Diocesan Record Office.

There is a proposal that, in due course there will be a register book for marriages solemnized in Anglican churches in the same way as for baptisms, confirmations and burials. However that will be an internal matter for the CofE and nothing to do with the GRO and it will not be the legal record of marriages, nor will be certificates issued from it. The Legal Office will advise further on this in due course. It is not immediately clear if the Church in Wales has anything similar in mind.

Before the new system goes live, some training will be provided by the GRO. However, it is unlikely that the GRO will have the resources to provide face-to-face training for all clergy and there will need to be a degree of co-operation with the dioceses. The GRO will however provide “awareness” (probably online and by mail-out) and a dedicated helpline available Monday – Saturday as well as a 24 hour emergency line. It is also intended to provide a printed aide-memoire to be placed in the vestry and which will include the emergency numbers and reminder of the new system. As regard training on the new system, it has been agreed that the Diocesan Registrars will be the most appropriate point of contact for the GRO to co-ordinate this.

These changes are significant, both for clergy and the couples, and it is essential that all clergy who conduct marriages are aware of them to ensure that the law is complied with and that couples’ marriages are validly conducted and properly registered. As further details become available we will post details on our website and Church House, Westminster and The Representative Body of the Church in Wales will also communicate the details through the dioceses and any relevant national networks.

[* As the necessary Regulations have not yet been laid before Parliament, the implementation timescale and the timelines for lodging a completed Marriage Document/Schedule with the Registry Office set out in this article remain liable to revision.]

Faculty Office
5 August 2019

June 2019

Changes to Marriage Registration – The way in which marriages are registered is set to change following the passing into law of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 which, as well as providing for opposite-sex couples to be able to enter into civil partnerships, will allow for mother’s names to be included in Marriage Registers as well as/in place of father’s names. It also makes provision for significant changes in the way that marriages are registered.

Representatives of the Faculty Office and the Legal Offices of the Church of England and Church in Wales have been in discussion with the General Register Office about the proposed changes which the Government are keen to bring into effect as soon as possible – but no implementation date has yet been confirmed. A number of issues remain to be resolved including the provision of a workable secure system to produce the new documentation and time to train the 20,000+ clergy who are able to conduct weddings in both Churches.

In essence, the proposals will replace Marriage Registers and Marriage Certificates (issued at the time of the wedding) with a Marriage Document which will be prepared by the officiating priest before the wedding. At the ceremony, the Marriage Document will be signed by the couple, their witnesses and the officiating priest (in much the same way as the Registers are currently). The significant difference is that the couple will then need to ensure that the Marriage Document is deposited at the local Register Office within 7 days of the date of the wedding and the local Superintendent Registrar will then record the details and issue the couple with a Marriage Certificate. The couple can ask someone to lodge the Marriage Document on their behalf (as in many cases they will, of course, be on honeymoon!) but it is their responsibility (not the officiating minister’s responsibility) to ensure that it is done.

How the Marriage Document is produced remains one of the significant areas under discussion. The Regulations envisage that this will be some form of secure online portal to which clergy will need access as there is provision for couples to be reminded by email from the General Register Office if they have not lodged the Document within the required period. In the shorter term, it is likely that clergy will be issued with a stock of Marriage Documents (similar to the books of Marriage Certificates which are currently provided by the GRO).

For marriages that currently take place by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates, the SRC will be replaced by a “Marriage Schedule” which will be produced by the Register Office taking Notice of the Marriage and that Schedule will then be signed by all the parties including the officiating priest once the marriage has taken place and, again, will have to be lodged with the Register Office within 7 days.

Before the new system goes live, training will be provided by the GRO (probably in conjunction with clergy training offered through Dioceses/Diocesan Registries). Please keep an eye out for the training as the changes are significant and it essential that all clergy who conduct marriages are aware of them to ensure that the law is complied with and that couples’ marriages are validly conducted and properly registered. Once a timetable for implementation of the new registration regime and training provisions are known, we will post details on our website and Church House, Westminster and The Representative Body of the Church in Wales will do their best to communicate the details through the dioceses and any relevant national networks.

February 2019

The latest issue of the General Register Office Clergy Newsletter has been issued. Of particular note to clergy is that the fee for the issue of a Marriage Certificate has been increased to £11.00 with effect from 16th February and that the two tier fee system for church weddings has been replaced with a single fee regardless of when the Certificate is issued (ie at the wedding ceremony itself or afterwards). A full copy of the newsletter is available here: Clergy Newsletter February 2019

January 2019

Brexit, Banns & EEA/Swiss Nationals: The Home Office have confirmed that they do not intend to make any changes to the sham marriage scheme on or immediately after the UK has left the EU.  This means that after the UK has left the EU, EEA nationals and Swiss nationals can continue to marry after Banns or by Common Licence.  The definition of ‘relevant national’ in the Marriage Act 1949 will therefore still include EEA nationals and Swiss nationals, although a minor amendment is likely to be made to reflect that the UK will no longer be an EEA State.

This means that Clergy can reassure EU, EEA and Swiss nationals seeking to marry in 2019 and early 2020.  The longer-term position still remains unclear but the Home Office will consult before making any changes to the scheme or to marriage preliminaries relevant to the operation of the scheme.  In the event that changes to the scheme are proposed, the Home Office will consider what, if any, transitional provisions are required.

August 2018

Fees for Special Marriage Licences The fee for a Special Marriage Licence will increase to £325 with effect from the 1st August 2018.

April 2015

Updated marriage law guidance for the clergy has been issued by the Faculty Office:
The Second Supplement from the Faculty Office has now been issued. This Supplement is intended to be read alongside the 3rd edition of the Faculty Office marriage guide booklet and the July 2013 First Supplement. It provides an important update to those areas where there have been changes in the law since July 2013, especially on the topic of marriages of non-European nationals in the Church of England. The Supplement is available to download by clicking here. Read our ‘guidance for the clergy’ page to download the First Supplement or to buy a copy of the 2010 booklet (3rd edition).

March 2015

Updated guidance for the clergy on marriage law:
The sixth issue of the General Register Office’s Clergy Newsletter is available to read, along with earlier editions: www.gov.uk/government/publications/clergy-newsletters.
A new edition of the ‘Guidebook for the Clergy’ is now available: www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-for-the-clergy. This is an important update because it takes account of the changes in the law brought about by the Immigration Act 2014. In particular, the flow-chart in Appendix B of the Guidance will assist clergy in establishing whether a person who does not have a current British Passport is a British National.

Changes to the law for non-European nationals wishing to marry in the Church of England:
Please be aware of the implications of the Immigration Act 2014 on marriages in the Church of England. From 2nd March 2015, it is no longer lawful for the marriage of a non-EEA (i.e. non-European) national to be solemnized in the Church of England after the publication of banns or by a common marriage licence (unless a couple has been informed that the ‘transitional arrangements’ will apply to them). All such weddings will now have to be authorised by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates. Read our pages on marriage law for further information.

December 2014

Changes to the law for non-European nationals wishing to marry in the Church of England: Please be aware of the implications of the Immigration Act 2014 on marriages in the Church of England, which takes effect from 2nd March 2015: click here for more information.

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