Reform in marriage law

bride and groom hugging in the woods In the biggest reform proposed to England's marriage ceremony law, the government's legal advisors have recommended that couples be allowed to marry in whatever outdoor location they choose. But for couples that might be unsure of what these reforms will mean in practice, and how and when they will likely to become law, County Wedding Magazines chats to Sebastian Burrows, managing partner at Stowe Family Law, to find out more....

"Laws around marriage have come some way in catching up with modern life, acknowledging that family structures have moved on from archaic traditions to include a variety of socially accepted dynamics," shares Sebastian. "However, one caveat that has remained since the early 19th century is that couples must have their ceremonies indoors. But good news may be to come for those couples looking to tie the knot outdoors, whether it be on a clifftop overlooking the beach or one's back garden. 

"This month, a Law Commission report has been published calling for couples to have 'more freedom to choose where they marry'. In the most significant reform ever proposed to England's marriage ceremony law, the report recommends lifting wedding and civil partnership ceremony restrictions in England which are confined to a place of worship, such as a church, or a licensed secular venue, such as a registry office. The report calls for weddings to be allowed not only in outdoor settings such as private gardens, parks and beaches and the grounds of licensed wedding venues but also in private homes and even cruise liners.

ceremony set up with floral backdrop "The Law Commission – namely the independent adviser to the government on law reform in England and Wales – has recommended in the consultation paper that current rules on weddings be updated to reflect changes in society, especially when compared to Scotland, Ireland and the Channel Islands, which adopt a more modern approach to how and where weddings are conducted. In terms of matrimonial law, such a change would match with the principle of making the legal union of couples open to all and something to be welcomed rather than restricted.

"The arguments that will flow from this report will be varied, but the Law Commission seeks clearly to push towards secularisation of weddings, providing couples with greater flexibility. A potential step forward with regards to respecting individuals' personal beliefs, this consultation acknowledges couples who do not want either a civil or religious wedding, instead providing them with the alternative of having a ceremony that reflects their ideals. To this end, government legal advisers also say that the law should be reformed to allow humanists to officiate. The flexibility this would create could also lead to fewer couples embarking on family life saddled with (often eye-watering) wedding debt that can place them under massive pressure straight away, in turn setting the marriage up for increased risk of failure from the very start.

"For couples looking to keep the cost of a wedding down, this legal development would be very much welcomed. While some might see a change in the law as a move towards more extravagant or soulless Vegas-style ceremonies, it may also provide a much-needed boost to the wedding industry in these challenging times.Indeed, the opportunity to have a video link wedding may be attractive to those keen to marry but fearful of the Covid-19 risk. While ministers are under no obligation to follow the recommendation set out by the Law Commission, its views do carry significant weight in Whitehall. Currently, the Church of England is studying the proposals, so it remains to be seen whether the law will soon play a significant role in catching up with modern society." - Sebastian Burrows is a managing partner at Stowe Family Law

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