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Marriages abroad - A trap for the unwary

Legal advice when marrying abroad


The perfect wedding - set in a far away land on an exotic beach, the waves lapping against the golden sand shoreline, palm trees blowing gently in the ocean breeze, luxurious hotel accommodation and facilities, family and friends for all to see.

The growing trend for summer weddings is big business as far as the tour operators are concerned. Many couples strive to make the dream a reality but in doing so are insufficiently aware of the legal requirements to validate the marriage upon return to England and Wales.

It is an essential prerequisite to any legal wedding that the marriage is in accordance with the law and custom of the country in question. Thus if a couple marry on the beech it Antigua, then the marriage must be in accordance with the law and custom of Antigua. Any couple marrying abroad therefore must do their homework and ensure that the marriage ceremony is lawful in so far as the intended country of marriage is concerned. Not only should the married couple to be do their homework in this respect, but on return to England and Wales it is imperative to have official proof that the marriage is "legal" (ie: some form of marriage certificate) in the event that there are any ambiguities at a future date.


Confirming the marriage abroad

It is good practice and common sense therefore to return to England and Wales with a valid certificate confirming the marriage, which then should be registered as a cautionary measure at the general Register Office in Southport, (Edinburgh or Belfast as appropriate to Scottish and Northern Irish couples). This may seem an obvious point, but it is imperative couples obtain a copy of the entry in the local marriage register certified by the appropriate authority in the foreign jurisdiction together with an English translation. The consol will also need to be satisfied that the certificate or extract is authentic and the translation accurate. Therefore armed with these official documents the newly weds can settle down to happy, and legal, wedded bliss in England and Wales.

It was recently reported that Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall married abroad but because the marriage was not lawful in accordance with the country of origin, in the subsequent event of the relationship breakdown Jerry Hall's financial claims against her husband were severely inhibited given this technicality.

As summer fast approaches, couples intending to marry abroad may want to take on board these cautionary and wise words.

Kevin Harris-James is a partner and divorce specialist with national law firm Irwin Mitchell, based in the Birmingham office. Kevin recently won the Birmingham Law Society Family lawyer of the Year Award 2005 and is a regular contributor to the local press and media on family legal issues.