Proposed Wedding Reform (pre Covid-19 considerations)

New covid-19 restrictions have now been implemented to reduce wedding parties from 30 people to 15 people in England and so with us having loved ones having to postpone weddings yet again, the SMQ legal team are taking a look at wedding ceremonies in general.  A student intern considers what other options there could be in the near future as an alternative to either a civil or religious ceremony …

If you are willing to brave the English weather, there is a chance that in the near future, individuals will be able to legally hold their weddings in a wider variety of venues. This comes as a result of the Law Commission’s recent Consultation Paper, published on the 3rd of September 2020, proposing a multitude of reforms to the English and Welsh Marriage laws.

In 2015, the Law Commission published a Scoping Paper with the conclusion that there was need to review the law regarding weddings. As the law in this area is currently governed by the Marriage Act 1949 (based on regulations dating back to 1836), the Law Commission concluded that the current rules are  too complex, inconsistent, and  unfair as they have not developed at a parallel rate to that of the cultural and religious diversity found in England and Wales today.

At present, couples only have the choice between a civil or religious ceremony, which does not provide for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. Additionally, this does not cater for couples of mixed faith or cultures; who often resort to paying for two weddings, travelling to alternative jurisdictions or holding a ceremony that the English law does not recognise, subsequently sacrificing the legal protection marriage provides. The Law Commission also recognises that, in order for a marriage to be binding, the ceremony must be held at a place of worship or an approved secular venue, with mandatory vows and officiants. They highlight that these regulations might not fit the needs of a modern couple, as the ceremony may not hold any meaningful reflection of their beliefs.

In order to vindicate what the Law Commission views as a historical system, they have put forward a wide selection of reforms including a proposal to modernise the preliminaries, which would allow individuals to give notice of an intended wedding remotely rather than in person. Furthermore, they propose that weddings could take place in a wider variety of locations. These will include outside parks, beaches, authorised gardens or even inside a privately owned property; reducing the costly process of choosing an authorised location for civil ceremonies. They emphasise that couples should be able to indicate the form the wedding will take, instigating a more personable event.

The consultation period for this proposal runs until the 3rd of December 2020 and a full report of recommendations is expected in 2021. These proposals should allow for a more expressive, cost effective and less complex wedding system. Ultimately, these recommendations should follow suit of our neighbouring countries such as Scotland and Ireland, in driving the marriage laws into the 21st Century.

Find the Law Commissions consultation paper online at https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/project/weddings/

By Joella Maddin

Student Intern

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