Law commission

Changes underway following the recommendations of the Law Commission for the reform of marriage and civil partnership ceremonies

The Law Commission has now released its long-awaited report on the laws governing marriages and civil partnership ceremonies.

As early as December 2014, the government invited the Law Commission to conduct a review of the law governing marriages and civil partnership ceremonies in that country. This led to the publication of a guidance document a year later, which concluded that a full-scale review was needed.

Fast forward to July 19, 2022 and the Law Commission has now released its long-awaited report which recommends proposals for reform that many say are long overdue.

Ultimately, the Law Commission accepted that the current law does not work for many couples. He concluded that the current regulations governing ceremonies are confusing, outdated and restrictive.

We live in an increasingly diverse society, so it’s no surprise that couples are now demanding more choice so they can celebrate their special day in a way that’s personal to them and reflects their particular wishes and beliefs. .

Criticisms addressed to the current regulations

Currently, there are strict rules regarding how and where weddings and civil ceremonies can take place, depending on the type of wedding. Couples can choose to have a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony, but they cannot opt ​​for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs.

As a general rule, subject to a small number of exceptions, all couples must hold their ceremony at a place of worship, a registry office or a venue approved for civil marriages. Although it is possible to hold a ceremony outdoors, an outdoor venue should normally be within the confines of approved premises.

In the event of non-compliance with these formalities, the marriage or PACS will not be legally recognized. This can lead to all sorts of problems and often people don’t realize they’ve breached the requirements until the relationship ends, either at the time of separation or because one party dies before the other.

Recommendations for Reform

The Law Commission has recommended comprehensive reform of the existing law and below is a summary of the proposed changes:

  • A shift from building regulations to regulating the officiant responsible for conducting the ceremony. This is by far the biggest change proposed by the Law Commission. Currently, the legality of the ceremony centers on the wedding location, but in the future, all weddings would be overseen by an authorized celebrant who would have legal responsibility for the wedding.
  • Universal laws would be introduced for all marriages, with very few exceptions. Currently, the law is inconsistent and different rules apply to Anglican, Jewish, Quaker and other religious marriages. Many believe that, if implemented, the new proposals will create a fairer and more consistent set of rules.
  • A greater appreciation of different beliefs and more flexibility in the ceremony itself. There will be greater choice in the content of the ceremony, allowing individuals to have a ceremony that reflects their values ​​and beliefs. It will no longer have to include “prescribed words” and couples who opt for a civil ceremony will be able to have religious songs, readings and hymns, provided the ceremony is still identifiable as a civil ceremony.
  • More choice of wedding venue. The proposals provide that religious ceremonies will take place in places other than places of worship, and couples will be allowed to marry in an outdoor location that is not connected to a building. This means that couples will be able to get married in a number of unusual and unique locations, such as forests, beaches and even local parks. It also means that couples will be able to consider more affordable venues such as private homes and party halls. This should be seen as a positive change, considering the marriage backlog as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and the current cost of living crisis.
  • Greater clarity on the consequences of not respecting the required formalities. New offenses will be introduced criminalizing celebrants who mislead someone into thinking they are legally married when they are not.
  • A modern and more practical system. Couples will be able to announce their upcoming marriage online and will also be able to choose the registration district where they will be auditioned by a registration officer.

Overall, the Law Commission hopes the proposed reforms will simplify the law and provide couples with greater freedom, while preserving the dignity of marriages, retaining important safeguards and respecting long-standing group practices. religious.

It is now up to the government to review and consider the recommendations contained in the Law Commission report and an interim response is awaited.

Rachel is a senior partner on the family team. She specializes exclusively in family law, with a particular interest in modern family law issues.

For advice or assistance with any questions relating to any of the topics covered, contact our family law legal advisers.