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When “I do” turns into “I do not believe this marriage is valid” 06/10/2023

With rising wedding ceremony costs, unpredictable weather in the UK, and the possibility of combining a holiday with the marriage ceremony, many people are opting to undertake their marriage ceremony abroad. What does this mean though in terms of the legality of the union?

The assessment of the validity of a marriage is split into two categories: “formal” validity of a marriage and “essential” validity of a marriage.

Formal validity of a marriage boils down to the essential legal requirements to get formally married in the country you are in, not the country from which you originate. Therefore, if you are abroad and you have sought to comply with the laws of England and Wales in reference to the ceremony, the chances are this marriage will not be valid. However, if you are complying with the local laws and formalities required to make the marriage valid at the place in which the ceremony is taking place, it is likely that the marriage will be valid.

Essential validity of a marriage relates to the legal requirements that must be met for a marriage to be legal and valid, such as both parties consenting to the marriage and having the legal capacity to marry under the laws of the country in which they are getting married – again not where they have come from.

A good example of a marriage being invalid is the marriage of Jerry Hall and Sir Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. They married in the early 90s on a beach in Bali. Years later when they came to separate, Ms Hall discovered that she was not automatically entitled to the financial relief she had expected to receive because the marriage had not complied with the local laws and therefore was invalid.

Essentially, if your marriage is invalid abroad, it will be invalid when in the UK regardless of how long you have lived together or how many children you have together. Parties who are unsure as to whether a marriage abroad is valid in the UK can apply to Court for what is known as a “Declaration as to Marital Status” to assess whether the marriage is valid in this country. However, such an application is time-consuming and likely to attract significant legal fees.

Parties should also be very careful if they are considering marrying in a foreign Embassy in the UK if they are then seeking to prove that in England and Wales the marriage is valid. For a valid marriage to occur in England and Wales it must take place in premises licensed to conduct ceremonies in accordance with the Marriages Act. If the Embassy or Consulate has not registered the premises for this purpose and if they have not provided adequate advance notice of the ceremony in order that a Registrar of Marriage may attend, the marriage will again be invalid.

Some Embassies will seek to conduct marriage ceremonies in accordance with their own traditions and domestic laws. Embassies, however, exist on UK territory and therefore the law of England and Wales applies to the validity of the marriage. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 “does not provide that Embassies and Consulates are foreign land in the ‘receiving’ or host country”.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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