Making it Legal

When planning to get married it’s not just the dresses and venue to consider – you also need to check out the legalities.

What are the banns?

The banns are a legal requirement for Church of England weddings. Your intention to marry is announced by your minister on three Sundays in the three months before your big day. They must be read in your parish council, as well as in the church where the ceremony is to take place. When booking your ceremony, your minister will give you details of the wording as well as the fee.

What is ‘giving notice’?

It is a legal requirement that formalises your intention to marry. Regardless of where you will wed, you need to go to your local register office with proof of identity and any previous marriage documents, as well as details of where you will marry.
Visit or your town hall website for more information.
You will meet with a registrar to complete the documents, which must be on view for 15 days at the offices. For your marriage to be legal, you need to give notice at least 15 days before your wedding and no more than 12 months in advance.

Can we marry on any day, at any time?

You can marry on any day, including Sunday, but as many local authorities are closed on bank holidays and churches are busy, this makes those days hard to book. A change in the law has lifted the restriction on when you can wed, so you can now exchange vows at any time of the day.

Are overseas weddings recognised here in the UK?

Yes, generally, provided they do not convene UK laws covering eligibility to marry (if you are waiting for a divorce to come through for example). The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises speaking to a lawyer to find out if your marriage is/will be recognised.

Do I need special permission to marry abroad?

The legal requirements for marriage or civil partnerships vary from country to country, so planning in advance is essential. You should also check regarding visas or if you need proof of residency in that country before you can get married. In some countries it is a necessary requirement that you spend a certain number of days resident there before exchanging your vows.
You may also need to take a Certificate of No Impediment (CNI) or a Nulla Osta (in Italy), which is a document confirming that there is no reason that you cannot marry.
Ensure you have all the visas and paperwork needed well before the day – it can take several months to obtain all the correct documentation from the relevant authorities. Check, too, whether you need to present original copies of documents, such as your passport or birth certificate, or whether copies are acceptable. It’s a long way to travel to discover you haven’t got the right documents with you!

• For more information, including foreign embassy contact details, visit

The most popular ways to marry in the UK

Civil ceremony

This can take place in a register office or any place licensed to hold weddings under the Marriage Act. Such premises must be permanent buildings (which rules out gardens and unmoored boats), which are open to the public and not connected with any religion.
Unless you marry at a register office, you will need to book a registrar to marry you. For a full list of approved premises, call the appropriate General Register Office. Visit or call 0300 123 1837.

Civil ceremonies in Scotland

Wherever you live in the UK, you may marry in a civil (or humanist) ceremony in Scotland by submitting notice forms to the registrar up to three months (and not less than 15 days) before the wedding day.

Church of England

You once had to be associated with a church to marry there, but due to a change in the law, there’s now more flexibility. Just one of you needs to have a connection with the parish – i.e., having been baptised there or having lived nearby for at least six months. Talk to the vicar or visit

Church of Scotland

Provided it is conducted by an authorised celebrant, a wedding can take place anywhere in Scotland, with no residency required. Give notice at the register office at least 15 days (up to three months) before the date.

Roman Catholic

One of you must be baptised Catholic to wed in a Catholic church. Sometimes a marriage preparation course may be required – speak to your priest.

Jewish Wedding

This usually takes place in a synagogue but can also be held in other venues.

Other religions

Marriage is covered by the superintendent-registrar’s certificate, issued at a register office before the day.


Humanism is a non-religious philosophical movement that also provides marriage ceremonies. They are not legally binding in England and Wales so many couples have a separate civil ceremony before their humanist one.