Updated: Jun 11
Planning your ceremony can become a bit of an after-thought when you have so many exciting decisions to make about outfits, flowers and decorations but it’s arguably one of the most important parts – it’s the bit that’s actually going to make you legally married!
The laws surrounding getting married vary dramatically between countries. In England, Wales and Northern Island you can only get married in a licensed location by an authorised registrar or religious minister. You can find out more about the legalities on the Gov.UK website here.
If you’re planning a destination wedding the laws will vary depending on the country you choose so do your research to understand its requirements as not all marriages performed overseas will be legal when you return home.
Below are three types of wedding ceremony you may want to consider: religious, civil and celebrant-led.
If you have a strong faith and want this to be the main focus of your ceremony then you may want to consider a religious ceremony.
It will be officiated by a religious leader and will include the customs, rules and traditions of that religion. It can take place at any registered religious building, such as a church, temple, mosque or synagogue depending on the religion, some clergy will also perform the ceremony at a meeting room or non-religious site.
Same-sex couples can get married in a religious building only if it has been registered for the marriage of same-sex couples.
The Church of England and the Church in Wales can legally register your marriage at the same time as the ceremony. They often don’t require you to be a regular church-goer but do ask you to make some kind of commitment to the venue you’ve chosen, such as having your banns read (also known as giving notice of your intent to marry), a marriage preparation course and/or attending church services in the run-up to your wedding.
Catholic, Jewish or Quaker weddings are much stricter than Church of England weddings and will require one or both of you to have been baptised or a practising member of that religion.
For all other religions, the ministers or priests need to have been authorised to register marriages and will have a certificate or license from the local Superintendent Registrar to do this. If the official performing the ceremony is not authorised then either a Registrar must attend the ceremony at a cost of £86 or have a separate civil ceremony.
If you don’t want any religious aspects in your wedding then you may want a civil ceremony.
These can take place at a Registrar Office or a venue that holds a wedding license. It follows a similar structure to a church ceremony however it won’t include any spiritual or religious content.
A registrar must perform or be present at your ceremony and you must have at least two witnesses. You will be required to repeat a standard set of vows that cannot be changed but can be added to as long as the additions aren’t religious. The ceremony may also include readings, songs or music but they should be non-religious.
You can book a registrar yourself or your chosen venue may do this for you.
This type of ceremony is often referred to as a humanist ceremony, or interfaith blessing or non-legal ceremony.
They give you the most flexibility in terms of the content of your ceremony and where it can take place and who performs it. The options are endless and your chosen celebrant will work with you to create a ceremony that is deeply personal, just some of these options include handfasting, unity candle, ring warmings or tree-planting ceremonies.
While this type of ceremony is legal in several other countries such as the US, Australia and Scotland, unfortunately, they are still not legal in England or Wales so you will need to sign the legal paperwork with a registrar at some point before or after your celebrant-led blessing. You can do this by going to the Register Office a few days before your wedding, or if you have time the morning of or if your venue has a license then you could pay for a registrar to attend so you can do this at some point during your day while your guests are being entertained.
Some of the places you can find your perfect celebrant are:
You can also find more information on making your wedding legal from Citizens Advice. Or feel free to get in touch if you have a question or want to talk about how I can help you plan your wedding by visiting leaholiviaweddings.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.