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Let’s make it legal: Key things to know about destination weddings

Written by: Irpreet Kohli and Judy Bodansky
It’s once again possible to plan your destination wedding. Here’s what you need to know about the legal side of getting married abroad to ensure your dream wedding doesn’t become a nightmare.

Do I need any documents to get married abroad?

In England, you need to ‘give notice’ of your intention to get married or form a civil partnership at least 29 days before your ceremony. Other countries will have their own local laws and processes. For example, some countries require a Certificate of No Impediment (CNI), to show that you are free to marry, which you may be able to obtain by contacting your local register office. This document may also need to be legalised (‘apostilled’) or translated to be accepted.

If your wedding includes a religious aspect, other evidence may be required to allow the wedding to go ahead. For Orthodox Jewish weddings, proof of the couples’ parents’ marriage certificate (Ketubah) may be required as well as evidence that both parties are single.

Ensure you are clear about the documentation you need and make sure it’s obtained in plenty of time before the wedding.

Are overseas marriages treated differently in English law?

If an overseas marriage has complied with local laws, creating a legal marriage in that country, then English law considers you to be married too. The status of your marriage is the same as someone who married in England. For example, a French wedding certificate is just as valid as an English one. However, this doesn’t mean all marriages taking place abroad are automatically valid in the UK.

To be considered a valid and legal marriage:

  1. The marriage must follow the laws and processes of the country in which it took place; and
  2. The couple must be able to get married in England as well. For example, marriages between blood relatives, those still married to another person or people aged under 16 cannot legally be married in the UK, and it follows if they get married abroad, although it may be legal in that country, it would not be recognised a valid marriage in England.

Do I need to register my wedding in England when I return?

You don’t have to register your marriage in England provided your marriage is valid in the country you married in. In some countries, there is a requirement to register the marriage within a certain timeframe after the ceremony. So whilst a marriage certificate may be provided on the wedding day, the marriage is not legally binding until it has been formally registered.

Check local laws to ensure you understand what is required to make your marriage binding in that country and elsewhere.

Is my UK marriage certificate equal in all countries?

English marriage certificates are not always valid in all countries. For example, some countries do not accept same-sex marriage or civil partnerships. On the other hand, polygamous marriages from other countries are not accepted in the UK.

If I have a religious marriage, is that considered valid in England?

A religious marriage taking place in England would not be legally binding unless accompanied by a civil ceremony and certificate of marriage (the element that creates legal marriage).

However, an overseas religious marriage which is considered legally binding marriage in that country would in most cases also be valid in England. As always, check local laws because a civil ceremony may also be required. It may be easier for this to take place at a registry office in England in addition to the religious ceremony to create a binding marriage.

Always make sure to keep your marriage certificate and any other documents supporting the validity of your marriage in a safe place in case you need to evidence your marital status in the future.

If things go wrong, where do I deal with a separation?

You don’t have to deal with any separation or divorce in the country where the wedding took place. Provided that your marriage is considered legally binding here, you may be able to deal with your separation in England & Wales if you and/or your partner live here or have lived here recently.

If you are unsure of the status of your marriage or have been living abroad, then speak to a family lawyer who will be able to advise you of your position.

Irpreet Kohli, partner, and Judy Bodansky, senior associate in the family team at Freeths LLP

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