So how do you get married – you know, the legal stuff? This was something we, like most people, had to find out about (not knowing off hand and all that), mostly through researching it on the web. So for anyone who still has any queries about it, here is our experience, and as many tips as I can think of.
Unless I’ve forgotten something, there are four kinds of wedding:
Humanist (Scotland only)
Church of England
And they all have their own quirks!
I don’t pretend to know much about Scotland’s legal system, but in general their attitude to weddings is better: more relaxed, less restricted and if you have a humanist ceremony they really invite you to make your wedding your own. You can have a civil legal wedding followed by a humanist ceremony in England, but the humanist bit alone isn’t legally binding – so it’s more like a blessing.
The wedding is conducted by a celebrant, and you can choose your celebrant freely, get in touch, have a chat and decide how much you like them. The celebrant will then tailor your wedding ceremony to suit, sending you ideas or extracts from other ceremonies to help you come to a decision. You can incorporate your own beliefs or belief system/s into your wedding, whatever they may be and however they tie in to established religions.
Usually, celebrants are happy to travel all over the place to perform their services, so you don’t have to restrict yourselves to those based locally. Fees vary, depending on the individual celebrant. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, celebrants can choose appropriate fees within an agreed band, whilst Scottish celebrants have a fee decided by unifying organisation. However, this is not the full picture, because celebrants may charge additional fees, including an ‘appearance fee’ and sometimes the licences and certificates are charged outside the basic fee. If in doubt, ask.
Religious and C of E Weddings
Getting married in a church or other religious shouldn’t be taken lightly nor done to keep the family happy. This is a huge commitment – because you are committing your marriage not only to each other, but also to god. Lots of discussions touch on the hypocrisy of being married in church if you’re not religiousas though you are offending the church by pretending to be one of their followers (because the church would never pretend they had more worshippers than they do, would they? Ahem census data versus the British Social Attutides Survey). However, there is another aspect of it: if you don’t believe in god, and you promise in your vows to commit to god as much as to your partner, doesn’t that make your vows – and thus the foundation of your entire marriage – a lie? Perhaps I’m too scrupulous, but I couldn’t take my partner’s commitment seriously if they were lying in the same breath just because some man in a robe told him to.
The message is this: if you’re getting married in church, whatever your usual beliefs, on this occasion, mean it.
Now, if you’re having a religious wedding, you need to start by going to the church/synagogue/mosque or other building you wish to get hitched in, and they will do your paperwork. Talk to whoever is in charge there and discuss the requirements for a marriage. There are usually lots!
The building you get married in may be restricted by certain requirements. For C of E, you need to live in the parish for 6 months or have a personal connection to the place (e.g. your parents got married there/live in the parish). If these don’t apply, the religioius official will probably either say no, or make you jump through other hoops, such as regularly attending religious services there, to make you prove it’s not just all about the pretty building.
You also have some choice over who performs the ceremony. If you want someone other than the priest/vicar/rabbi responsible for your building to perform the ceremony, you have to have the agreement of another official to come and marry you AND ALSO the agreement of the priest/vicar/rabbi who would be the default. This means that if you sufficiently piss off your vicar, they can forbid you to be married in their church by anyone other than themselves.
If you have been divorced you will need to discuss this with them and they may make you do more hoop jumping, or insist on bringing it up during the ceremony (ouch). It is probably best to ascertain from the start where they stand over this.
If you’re not regular church goers, you may need to start going regularly before the wedding to show your devotion to the church and its community. This is especially likely if only one of you is of the appropriate religion. In the case of Catholicism, you will need to promise to bring up children as Catholics and you may need to keep quiet about living together! Some religious officials will insist on baptising an unbaptised/non-religious spouse, most commonly in Catholicism. However, this is not universal and depends entirely upon the individual establishment.
One thing you will be asked to do is to go to a marriage preparation class. For some religions and ceremonies this is compulsory, and for others it is merely recommended. This usually involves counselling to check that you know how to communicate, that you’ve thought about the implications in living together and that you have discussed/know what to expect from sex and contraception/childbearing (especially if you’re supposed to be virgins. I think this is compulsory in Catholicism, but a lot of the time someone comes to specially talk about sex, whilst the celibate priest just sits back and watches. However, in some cases you do have to discuss your sex life with your celibate priest. Erm… ew).
In general, religious weddings are the most expensive, but this isn’t always so. The cost of getting married in church starts at a base fee of £321.50, which includes your banns, the legal fee and your certificate. You can save £22 if the church you marry in and your home church are the same, as then your banns are only read once.
On top of this, most churches request a “donation” which brings the fee up to at least the £500 mark, and is very dependent upon the individual building. Flowers, bells, choirs/organists are all additional costs which will be added on top of this if you want them and will be subject to availability and priced up by each church to their own satisfaction. Fees can easily get to £700/£800.
If you are having a C of E wedding, your vicar may be invested as a registrar, and can perform the entire ceremony under the negotiated fee. If not, or if you are having a wedding under a different religion, you will need to get the registry office involved: your religious official will perform the ceremony and one registrar will be there do teh paperwork and validate the marriage. The fee for this is a little less than a civil wedding, as you need only one registrar, and will depend upon the fee guidelines in the county you’re getting married in. Sometimes your religious official will deal with the registry office for you and include the cost within their own fees – so it’s important to ask.
Currently, the only way for a same sex couple to marry is through civil partnership, although fortunately it does look like this may change soon. And plenty of opposite sex couples, like me and the Fiance, also marry civilly. And this no longer means a quick registry office tying of the knot!
You can get married in any registered building, although no room in any building can be registered for civil AND religious ceremonies – traditionally if there is a chapel that will be for religious ceremonies, and other rooms for civil ceremonies. Non-religious buildings may be registered only for civil weddings. Further, for a civil wedding you don’t have to get married anywhere near where you live or anywhere with an association to you/your family. So there is plenty choice.
And you don’t have to get married in a hotel! When we told our parents we were getting married, we were asked, “Hotel or registry office?” and our reply was “Neither!”
You can find out which buildings are registered at Direct.Gov, which is generally a very good place to go for advice on civil weddings. And if you don’t understand it, you can give them a call!
All sorts of buildings are registered – town halls, restaurants, country houses, conference centres and heritage buildings! – and despite what the myths say, you can get married outside – so long as the outside location is registered and within the confines of a registered building (there aren’t many!). In Somerville College, you can marry in the Fellow’s Garden, and some venues have gazebos or pavillions which are licensed.
Choosing a venue can be tricky, as you have to balance having the venue and having a registrar to bundle. For this, you have to give notice. When my uncle and aunt got married, they couldn’t do this until 5 months before the wedding, after they had booked the venue and everything else, so my uncle camped out outside the registry office and made sure he was first through the door to secure a registrar! Now you can give notice up to a year in advance, which takes the pressure off a bit. We booked our appointment to give notice in advance of the 1 year mark, and then turned up when the time came around.
So what happens when you give notice?
First of all, you need to make sure that you give notice in the district in which you live, not that in which you wish to marry, unless they are the same. This means that if you live in separate districts you will have to give notice separately. We actually gave notice in Oxford, then moved to Birmingham, but that’s okay. We lived in Oxford when we gave notice and thus have only had to deal with them. If you’re in this position just make sure you tell them your new address when you move, as it will help with the paperwork later on.
For giving notice, you pay a fee of £33.75 each, and a notice of your marriage is then displayed in the registry office for 16 days, so that if anybody wishes to object, they may (they won’t, don’t worry).
At your appointment to give notice, you will have to state the time, date and location of your wedding, and after you have given notice you can change the time/date but not the venue – or you have to give notice again! You will then get asked a few questions: first that you’re happy to marry and are doing so freely, then (each taking turns in going out of the room) your partner’s full name and date of birth, and occupation. You will also be asked for your own details and they will be cross checked. If you get something wrong they will ‘black mark’ you on the form, which means they will note it as an inconsistency. From everything I’ve heard, you can know none of your partner’s details except their first and last name and get away with it, though!
One thing there have been differences of opinions over is the subject of fathers. Traditionally, the woman would not have an occupation, so her father’s name and occupation would appear on her marriage certificate. Registrars will still ask for a father’s name for the bride, and sometimes for the groom. IF YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR FATHER’S NAME ON YOUR MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GIVE IT. I asked and was told it was unnecessary. I think they can also take an alternative “guardian”‘s details instead too, but none of this will be appearing on mine.
We were given a form to take away with us and fill in. This is usually requested back about a month before the wedding, but there’s nothing like being organised. It asks for details like the names you want used in your ceremony, whether you want any children mentioned, readings/readers (and copies of the readings to be checked), your witnesses and how you want to be announced at the end of the ceremony. It gives you the option to have your own vows or use some of theirs. The only legal compulsory bit are the Declaratory and Contracting words, for which you have to pick from their selection. You can pick any combination traditional/modern/simple, but you can’t change anything about them in the slightest, e.g. merging two versions. These words must be said before 6pm for the marriage to be valid.
Readings are very popular in civil ceremonies to pad them out and as an alternative to hymns; however, you are not under any circumstances allowed to have any god in them whatsoever. No mention of beliefs, no quotes from traditional vows (e.g. “for better for worse”)/calling your lover your angel. None of that whatsoever.
The number of readings you’re allowed again depends on your county. Oxfordshire are quite relaxed, and whilst there are 3 spaces for readings on the form they gave us, they’re happy for 3 short poems and a piece of prose. Some counties only have 2 spaces for readings. If you’re unsure, ask.
We’ve handed our form in – well, actually we scanned it into the computer and emailed it to save postage – but we didn’t actually finish filling it in! The registrars are quite happy for you to submit some information later than others, as long as they get to check it, so we haven’t decided on our vows nor how we want to be announced at the end of the ceremony.
On the wedding day itself, you will need two registrars: one to perform the ceremony and one to bookkeep. You have no say over who these are, but when they are allotted (usually 4-6 weeks before the wedding, depending on your county) you will be able to meet them or speak on the phone (and I suppose if they were incredibly offensive you could lodge a complaint, but you would then be randomly allotted a replacement, assuming there were grounds for your complaint!). Ours is allotted a month in advance, so I don’t yet know whether we have to chase up a meeting or whether we will be invited for one, but I have a sneaking suspicion it is the former!
The fee you pay for your registrars depends upon the county, time of year and day of the week – so getting married on a Saturday in May is around £400. Less if you get married on the premises.
It’s worth mentioning that other restrictions apply and vary between different kinds of ceremonies. The major one is photographs, and when you photographer is allowed to take pictures and move about. Churches are particularly bad about letting photographers take pictures during the ceremony, even with flash off. Some registrars/celebrants prefer them to stay seated (which is fair enough) and others are quite free about it. For our wedding, Oxfordshire are happy for our photographer to do her stuff, the only limitation being no pictures of the actual register – which is fair enough as it contains other couples’ details! Again, if in doubt, ask.