Marriage Law Information

Introduction

Before making plans for a Church of England or Church in Wales wedding, couples should make sure that they will be able to meet the legal requirements for marriage in the church or chapel where they wish to marry.

By law, a marriage can only be conducted after an appropriate preliminary. This is a legal formality which authorises the wedding to take place. In the Church of England and the Church in Wales the normal preliminary is the calling of banns in each party’s parish church.

From 2nd March 2015 the wedding of any non-European national in church must take place after a Certificate has been issued by the civil Superintendent Registrar, unless a Special Marriage Licence has been granted.

Sometimes banns are not appropriate and the couple will need to obtain a Common Marriage Licence from the diocese where the wedding is to take place.

If no other preliminary is possible for a church wedding, a couple may need to apply for the Special Marriage Licence from the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Couples should first discuss the appropriate legal preliminary with the Anglican minister at the church or chapel where they wish to marry, before contacting any other organisation (whether the relevant Diocesan Registry, the relevant civil register office or the Faculty Office) about obtaining a preliminary.

Legal Entitlements

The Church of England and the Church in Wales are divided geographically into parishes and for each parish there is normally a parish church.

Details of the parish boundaries in England and their parish churches can be found here, searchable by place-name or postcode: http://www.achurchnearyou.com/. Parish churches in Wales can be searched for through the Church in Wales website: http://www.churchinwales.org.uk.

Historically couples had the right to married in the parish church of their parish of residence and additionally the parish church where they usually worshipped and had joined the Church’s Electoral Roll. Couples retain these rights, but since the introduction of the ‘Marriage Measure’ in 2008, couples have also had the legal entitlement to marry in the parish church of a parish to which either of them could demonstrate just one of any of the following ‘qualifying connections’.

If either of the couple:

i) have at any time lived in the parish for a period of at least six months;

ii) were baptized in the parish concerned (this does not apply where the baptism formed part of a combined service of baptism or confirmation);

iii) were prepared for confirmation in the parish (and when confirmed had his or her confirmation entered in a confirmation register in the parish);

iv) have at any time habitually gone to normal church services in the parish church for a period of six months;  or

If any of the couple’s parents, at any time during the applicant’s lifetime:

v) has lived in the parish for a period of at least six month;

vi) has habitually gone to normal church services in the parish church for a period of at least six months; or

If any of the couple’s parents or grandparents

vii) was married in the parish;

then the couple are deemed to have a ‘qualifying connection’ to that parish. Couples are able to choose between marrying in any of the churches where they have a legal entitlement to marry.

The references to baptism, confirmation and marriage, and to attending public worship, are all confined to services according to the rites of the Church of England. Further information about ‘qualifying connections’ and the 2008 Marriage Measure can be found here, including the Guidance issued by the House of Bishops.

Please note that special considerations apply where one or both parties have been previously divorced with a former spouse still living. See Marriage In Church After Divorce.

If a couple hope to marry in a church which to which they do not have any of the legal links, or where the church itself is not a parish church or otherwise licensed for weddings, the only option open to them is to apply for an Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Marriage Licence from the Faculty Office.

Banns and Common Marriage Licences

Banns

If a couple have a legal entitlement to marry in a parish and wish to marry in the parish church (or a public chapel in the parish holding a Bishop’s Licence for weddings), the usual preliminary for the wedding is the publication of banns.

Banns are read in the church where the wedding is to take place and in the parishes where each party resides.

An application for the calling of banns must be made to the minister of each parish where banns are to be called, which should be 7 days in advance of the Sunday when it is hoped the reading of the banns will be commenced. Banns must be called on three Sundays (not necessarily consecutive Sundays) prior to the wedding and a certificate of publication must be obtained.

A marriage after the calling of banns must be solemnized within three months of the last occasion on which banns were called.

Common Marriage Licences

If either of the couple reside outside England or Wales, or have a genuine reason for needing to marry in church before the publishing of banns can be completed, a Common Marriage Licence may be needed. If a couple have any of the entitlements to marry in a parish church after banns then a Common Marriage Licence can be obtained on the same basis. For example, if the bride has a ‘qualifying connection’ to the parish, neither she nor the groom need also to be currently residing in the parish at the point of applying for the Licence.

Banns and Common Marriage Licences: evidence of nationality

Where an application for banns or for a Common Marriage Licence is made by any couple wishing to marry in church, after 2nd March 2015 both parties should provide evidence of their nationality. Usually this will be a passport or (for some European citizens) national identity card. Clergy will advise couples on the exact requirements. Guidance for the clergy is found in the General Register Office’s ‘Guidebook for the Clergy’, including a flow-chart to help clergy establish whether a person who does not have a current British Passport is a British National. If the bride and groom do not both produce evidence that they are both British/European nationals, the couple will need to apply for Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates.

Banns and Common Marriage Licences: Special Provisions

Where there is a parish with no parish church, or where there is a parish church which does not have a service every Sunday, or the parish church is temporarily closed for repairs, the parish can be treated as part of any adjoining parish, so that banns may be called in the church of any adjoining parish and the marriage solemnised there. The provisions also apply to Common Marriage Licences, and (for non-European nationals only) Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates.

Where there is a parish which is part of a benefice which has multiple parishes, it is possible for the Bishop to make an order under Paragraph 12(4) of Schedule 3 of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, specifying where banns may be called and marriages solemnised in a multi-parish benefice. This means that the Bishop’s order will permit any person living within the benefice to have banns called in, and be married in, any parish church within the benefice.

In other cases apart from the ones mentioned above, including multi-parish benefices where a Bishop’s order has not been made, a couple may marry only in a parish (not benefice) to which they have the legal entitlement to marry, unless it is by Special Licence.

Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates

A Superintendent Registrar of a civil Register Office may issue a Certificate to permit a marriage to take place in an Anglican church. Usually one of the parties must have the required seven days’ residence within the registration district and within the parish where the marriage is to take place before applying for the Certificate, or the church must be the usual place of worship of one or both of the parties. The Registrar enters the details of the parties in a book which is open to public inspection and also displays a notice at the Register Office. For any notice given after 2nd March 2015, the notice period is 28 days. If no impediments are shown within the period allowed, a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate can be issued.

From 2nd March 2015, the marriage of non-European nationals in the Church of England must take place by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate. (The only exceptions to this are in cases where a Special Marriage Licence is instead required, or where the ‘transitional arrangements’ apply to a particular couple who have previously applied for a Common Marriage Licence.)

The marriage of non-European nationals in the Church of England by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate will now be allowed in any situation where previously the publication of banns could have been the legal preliminary for the marriage. Principally this includes cases where the bride and/or groom has a ‘qualifying connection’ under the 2008 Marriage Measure to the parish. (This is not the case for British/European nationals; the Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate procedure will be available to them only in the more limited circumstances explained above. It will remain rare for the marriage of British/European nationals to take place in the Church of England by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate.)

For couples where one or both of the parties is a non-European national with limited immigration status or not here legally, the civil registrars will be required to refer their marriage notice to the Home Office for potential investigation as to whether the proposed marriage is a sham. To allow time for the investigation, the Home Office may extend the notice period to 70 days. Those with indefinite leave to remain, or a marriage visitor or fiancé(e) visa will be exempt from this referral and investigation process.

Couples applying for a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate should read the government’s website pages which can be found here:
https://www.gov.uk/marriages-civil-partnerships. These include contact details for local (civil) register offices and designated register offices. Each register office will usually have its own website explaining the procedures in greater detail.

Marriage in Church after Divorce

Even where a couple normally has the entitlement to marry in a parish church, if one of them has been divorced (and the former spouse is still living), a member of the clergy is entitled by law to refuse to conduct the wedding in those circumstances.

The House of Bishops issued Advice to the Clergy (GS1499) concerning the procedure to be followed when one of the applicants for a marriage licence is a divorced person with a former spouse still living. General Synod made it clear that the decision whether to solemnize such marriages rests with the incumbent (or officiating minister, provided the incumbent is prepared for his/her church to be used for the marriage), whilst affirming both that marriage remains a life-long covenant and that there are exceptional circumstances in which a divorced person may re-marry in church.

The House of Bishops discussed the issue of Common Licences in respect of those being married in church after divorce. The House resolved that Common Licences should be available to the divorced, provided that the Advice to the Clergy had been complied with.

A copy of the leaflet for couples (the form and explanatory statement for Marriage in Church after Divorce) can be downloaded from the Church of England website by clicking on this link: Marriage in Church after Divorce leaflet for couples.

For the procedures involved in a wedding after banns or a Common Licence, couples should contact the Diocesan Registry for the diocese for the parish church where they wish to marry. To find out the relevant diocese, search for the church on ‘A Church Near You’. The listing information for each church will name the diocese it is based in.

Leaflet for couples – Marriage in Church after Divorce (Form and explanatory statement).
The House of Bishops’ Advice to the Clergy on Marriage in Church after Divorce (GS1499).

Foreign Nationals/Foreign Domicile

Please be aware of the implications of the Immigration Act 2014 on marriages in the Church of England. From 2nd March 2015, it will no longer be 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 (‘SRC’).

If either of the parties to a marriage in England or Wales is a foreign national or has a foreign domicile (that is, their fixed and permanent home is abroad), they should ensure that the legal requirements of their home country are observed.

A marriage performed in accordance with English Law may not be recognised abroad. There have been cases where the marriage has been declared invalid, leaving spouses and children abandoned in a foreign country.

Problems with the recognition of marriage have arisen particularly in Islamic countries, and some Eastern European states which were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

No difficulties have been experienced in the European Union, the old Commonwealth (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa) or the United States.

Making Enquiries

To avoid risks about the recognition of an Anglican marriage, it is necessary to comply both with the laws of this country and the laws of the home country. You should seek advice from the nearest consulate or embassy of the foreign country to ascertain whether a marriage conducted in England or Wales after the appropriate preliminary will be recognised as valid.

There may be additional legal requirements imposed by the foreign country before the marriage is recognised there.

It is particularly important to consult the consular authorities where one of the parties is a foreign national under the age of 25. The legal age of consent for marriage is not invariably the same in other countries as it is in England and Wales.

Special Licence Procedure for Foreign Nationals or those living overseas

To find out whether you need a Special Licence, please follow this link.

Applicants for a Special Licence who are foreign nationals, or living overseas, are strongly encouraged to consult their embassy or consulate at an early stage to obtain:

i) satisfactory assurance that the legal requirements of that country have been fulfilled and that a marriage of one of its citizens or residents, solemnized in England and Wales according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England or the Church in Wales, will be recognised in the country in question; and

ii) confirming the requirements and practicalities as to the registering of such a marriage in that country.

All applicants for a Special Licence must enclose a copy of their current valid passport, or other sufficient valid proof of nationality, with their Licence application form.

In addition, applicants who are subject to immigration control must enclose a copy of their UK visa.

The application process for a Special Licence where the bride or groom is a non-European national is more strict. A check with the Home Office might be carried out, regarding the immigration status of a non-European national. The couple will need to attend an interview at the Faculty Office in Westminster.

School, College and University Chapels

This section explains the Archbishop’s usual requirements for applicants where the parties wish to marry in a school, college or university chapel.

Licences are normally granted if one of the parties is:

  • A member of staff (teaching or non-teaching) of the school or college
  • A child of one of the members of staff (teaching or non-teaching) of the school or college
  • A former member of staff of longstanding service (teaching or non-teaching) of the school or college
  • An ex-student (or, where applicable, a current student) of the school or college.

Licences may also be granted if one of the parties has a strong family or other link with the institution that satisfies the Archbishop’s overall criterion, but each application will be considered on its own merits.

If a couple does not satisfy these requirements but still feels there is good reason for being granted a special licence, the minister who is going to conduct the wedding should write to the Faculty Office, on behalf of the couple, explaining the circumstances. Special Licences do not issue on aesthetic or sentimental grounds or to facilitate pre-planned wedding receptions.

There are a number of other conditions which have to be satisfied before an application for a Special Licence can be approved:

i)  The couple’s families should approve of the marriage.

ii) The incumbent(s) or minister(s) in charge of the parish(es) where the couple reside should have been consulted; or, if a couple are resident overseas, an Anglican minister local to their residence should be consulted.

iii) The school/college authorities must have consented.

iv) The chaplain or minister in charge of the chapel where the service is to be held must have been consulted and given his or her agreement.

v) The minister who is to solemnise the wedding must be fully in support of this couple’s application for a Special Licence.

In cases where one (or both) of the parties is divorced and has a former spouse still living, Special Licences are granted only where a certified copy of the decree absolute is supplied with the application, the House of Bishops’ Advice on remarriage is followed, including the filling out of the ‘Marriage In Church After Divorce’ application form‘, and the officiating minister consults with his/her Bishop (and sends, with the application form, a copy of the Bishop’s written response and the completed ‘Marriage In Church After Divorce’ leaflet).

Useful Links

These pages are intended to be of assistance to couples wishing to marry in the Church of England or Church in Wales, and the clergy of those churches.

The information given is for general guidance only and is not intended to be a definitive statement of the law or the Archbishop’s practice.