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The Definitive Guide to the Wedding Ceremony

You have three main choices for a legal wedding ceremony in England and Wales: a Church wedding in your local parish,  a civil wedding at any register office or a civil wedding at a licensed venue


Wedding Planning Editor, Susanna Richardson 

 Ceremony_Room_with_sashed_chairs.jpgWith the law at the moment, it is the venue that is licensed and not the person. This is not the case in Scotland where the person performing the marriage is licensed meaning you can marry anywhere. The law was set to change for the rest of the country but this has now been rejected.

 The Church Wedding 

Church weddings can be magical but depending on your religion, church ceremonies and the requirements will vary. It is worth having a meeting with your minister and checking the requirements. It’s better to find anything out early on then risk finding out too late.

Here are listed the basic requirements for some religions.

Church of England and Church in Wales

It is usually a requirement that one or both of you must live within the local parish. You must also both be free to marry and listed on the electoral role.

Marriage where one or both party has been divorced are at the discretion of the vicar so make sure you make them aware.

If you do want to marry in a church outside of your parish then you can apply for a special license. This is something you will need to discuss with the Vicar.  Sometimes a Vicar may stipulate that you have to attend the church for a period of time leading up the wedding, maybe 6 times within the year or similar. There is no set rule so it really depends on how flexible your vicar is. In some cases they may even request that you attend a “marriage course”, a one-day course aimed at discussing marriage values.

 Banns will be read on three consecutive Sundays leading to your wedding. These will also be read in the parish where you currently live.

Church of Scotland

Weddings in Scotland can take place pretty much anywhere, which is why Scotland can be a popular choice for couples not wanting a conventional wedding.

Again it’s a case of discussing the options with the Minister and finding out any requirements.


Most Rabbis are authorised to register marriages but all applications must go through the register offices, in the same way as a civil ceremony.  One advantage is that you can marry after 6pm so late evening weddings are a popular choice for those having a Jewish wedding. They also don’t have to take place at a place of worship, they can take place as other venues such as a hotel. Weddings cannot take place on a Sunday though. As with any wedding it’s a good idea to have a chat with your Rabbi before you do anything else.

Roman Catholic

It’s a good idea to contact your priest as soon as you decide to marry. It is very rare for divorcees to be married in church so this is something you’d need to discuss if it applies to you. They are also quite strict on both parties being of the catholic religion. If one of you is not then you will need to get a “dispensation” from the Bishop or priest. All Catholics will be asked to show any baptism or confirmation certificates so make sure you have those to hand.

The Register Office Wedding

As long as you are over 16 and free to marry you can marry at any register office within England and Wales. You will need to give notice at your local office and a charge will be added for this (about £30 per person). You can usually only book up to 12 months beforehand (though some will do longer terms). Again, it is worth calling the register office and having a chat with them, they are very helpful and will talk you through each stage of the process.

A civil wedding cannot contain any religious content at all, with either the music or readings. All readings will need to be agreed by the registrar beforehand.

 The licensed venue wedding

There are over 3000 licensed venues in England and Wales and they are all very unique. A good website for a comprehensive list is www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content

This site also contains invaluable advice about booking your ceremony. There is also information about civil weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland where the legalities differ slightly.

Before you book the venue you will need to check that a registrar is available to marry you, the venue should be able to tell you which register office they come under and it is just a case of a quick phone call.

 Humanist weddings

This is not a legal ceremony so it really can take on any format and be performed anywhere. Most people would attend a register office a few days before to have the “legal” ceremony and then this ceremony would form the part at the venue where the guests attend. It really can be exactly like a “legal” wedding so it’s a good compromise if you have your heart set on an al fresco event. A good site for information is www.humanism.org.uk

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