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Green light for outdoor civil weddings and partnerships

By Hannah Braisted, solicitor in the Family Law team

Call me an overly-committed family lawyer, but my go-to fun fact (for anyone that will listen) has always been that you cannot legally get married in an outside venue and generally, the formal ceremony will need to take place in a permanently built structure. Any romantic notions of getting formally married in a hot air balloon or on a beach at sunset are quite quickly quashed.

At the moment, a marriage can take place in a number of places, including a Register Office, premises approved by the local authority such as a hotel, or a church of the Church of England. More unusually, a marriage can also take place in the home of one of the intended spouses, if one of those spouses is housebound or detained, for example, in prison.

The Local Authority can approve premises other than Register Offices for civil marriages, however the venue must be regularly open to the public. The general rule is that approved premises will need to be permanently built structures, although it is possible for permanently moored boats to be approved for civil marriage ceremonies. Approval will not be given for open air venues, such as beaches, cruise ships or golf courses.

England and Wales seem to be one step behind the rest of the United Kingdom in this regard. There are no location restrictions for Scottish weddings and in Northern Ireland, there are no restrictions for the location of religious marriages, although civil marriages can only take place in approved venues.

However, it was announced this week that civil weddings and civil partnerships will be permitted to take place outdoors for the first time in England and Wales. Religious ceremonies, other than Jewish and Quaker ceremonies, will continue to take place indoors. There is set to be a ‘trial period’ from July 2021 to April 2022, following which there will be a consultation to decide whether the change should be made permanent. There are also plans to allow religious marriages to take place outdoors, although we are yet to see any developments in this area.

In a world where approximately 75% of non-religious weddings now take place on approved premises, the change in the law should give couples the freedom to choose a wedding venue best suited to them. At the same time, this is a welcome development for the wedding venues, who have massively suffered over the last year as a result of Covid-19.

"A couple's wedding day is one of the most special times in their lives and this change will allow them to celebrate it the way that they want. At the same time, this step will support the marriage sector by providing greater choice and helping venues to meet demand for larger ceremonies."

Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary ”