04th Aug 2021

New Government Rules on Outdoor Weddings – Be Careful!

By Elizabeth Hicks

New Government Rules on Outdoor Weddings – Be Careful!

Up until 1 July 2021, it was only possible to legally marry in England and Wales in an approved room or permanent structure – which meant that all those couples who dreamt of a fairy tale beach wedding or getting married in the garden of the family home were unable to do so. They had to get married inside although of course they could then have a non-legal ceremony or celebration outside.

However, as a result of the numerous delays which thousands of couples have had to face as a result of the pandemic, the Ministry of Justice has provided new regulations which mean that with effect from 1 July 2021, civil weddings and civil partnerships can now take place within the grounds of approved premises.

So, what does this mean?

You still have to ensure that the grounds or gardens where you want to marry form part of the grounds of an approved premises – you can’t just decide to marry outside. You should contact the Registrar of the area/County where you wish to get married who will have a list of approved premises.

The current change in the rules is only effective until April 2022 although there is a consultation which will be carried out in the Autumn of 2021 to look at the implications of outdoor weddings and consider further regulations.

You need to be aware however that if you do decide to throw caution to the wind and invite family and friends to an outside wedding which isn’t in the grounds of an approved premises, and maybe ask a family friend to conduct a “ceremony” where you swap rings and make vows to each other, this isn’t a legal marriage ceremony. A valid marriage has to comply with the Marriage Act 1949. But  – and this is where it gets complicated! – even if a marriage does not comply with the necessary formalities of the Marriage Act 1949, it could still be classed as a void (as opposed to a non) marriage. And if it is a void marriage, it is possible to bring a claim for a financial remedy in the courts and an order for a lump sum or maintenance if the void marriage then breaks down in the future.

The basis for claiming a marriage is void is set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. This includes that one party did not consent to the marriage due to duress, mistake, unsound mind or otherwise (ie. it may be that one party knew that they were not really getting married but allowed the other person to believe they were!)

The recent case of Attorney General -v Akhtar [2020] EWCA Civ 122 was one where the Court of Appeal looked in detail at whether the marriage was void or a non-marriage as it didn’t comply with the necessary legal formalities of the Marriage Act 1949 although the couple had been together for 18 years and had three children. The Court of Appeal decided that the Islamic faith marriage ceremony was a non-marriage and therefore it could not be classed as a void marriage – which meant that the “wife” had no financial claims in her own right against her “husband”.

The Law Commission is currently working on proposals to reform wedding laws to include, for example, whether specific vows are required, who should be able to solemnize a marriage, how marriages should be registered – and the new regulations on outside weddings are the first output of this review.  The rest of the recommendations are due at the end of 2021.

For now, outside marriages are possible but you still need to ensure that they take place in the grounds of an approved premises, that you have a Registrar present and that you comply with the necessary legal formalities.

Director Elizabeth Hicks specialises in all areas of family law and has particular expertise in divorce, contested financial remedy cases and asset protection, often involving international aspects. Elizabeth also advises on complicated private Children Act cases and on Pre and Post Marital Agreements. She is an experienced collaborative lawyer. Elizabeth is ranked as a leading family lawyer by all of the key legal directories.