Planning your dream wedding is like orchestrating a masterpiece… A crucial part of this being the legalities. At Melt Weddings, we love the fairy lights, the floral arrangements and the dresses, but we are all too familiar with the legal aspects that must be implemented.
Hold onto your bouquet because this blog post is your whirlwind VIP pass to the legal rollercoaster of your ‘I dos’. We're going to talk you through the what's, how's and why's of the legal documents entangled in your nuptials.
Whilst it’s not the most thrilling subject, we want to be sure your love meets the law… From marriage licenses to name changes, vendor contracts and licenses, and officiant requirements, we want to be sure you don’t miss a beat when it comes to the legal stuff.
Get your notepad out, because school is in session...
A marriage licence (or giving notice of a marriage or civil partnership) is more than just a formality - it is the first legal step required in order for your marriage to be recognised in your county.
It is an authorisation permitting two people to enter into a marriage/civil partnership. This takes your wedding day from a party with friends and family to the legally-recognised union of two people.
To obtain one, you must both visit your local registry office in person and give notice of your intention to marry.
You need to do this with at least 28 days clear of your ceremony (although we’d recommend a little longer, as the licence is valid for 12 months and there’s no point in cutting it fine if you can avoid it).
There are a number of things you need to take to your appointment. These include proof of identity (name, age and nationality), address and current marital status. Typically, accepted documents will include passports, drivers licences, utility bills, bank statements, and divorce or death certificates (of a previous spouse). Documents typically have to be originals and in date to be accepted.
There may be other documents you require, like a confirmation of your venue, so make sure to check what documents are needed and accepted on your local council’s/borough’s website or call them - they’re generally happy to help you through this process.
Don’t forget that there will be a fee for this process (generally between £35 and £50 per person), so make sure you allow for this in your wedding budget.
Now, it is crucial to note that there are intricate legalities if one of the partners is not a British national, or if you are living abroad, so please do make sure you check the terms and conditions. Again, these can be easily found online - typically on your local council’s website.
Things to watch out for:
On your wedding day, you will sign the marriage schedule which will then be entered onto the electronic register. The registrar has 21 days to submit your schedule to the register, from which it will be issued within 7 days. You could be fined if the schedule is not submitted to the register, so make sure you have a discussion with your registrar beforehand and find out when they plan to submit.
You are not then automatically sent your marriage certificate - you have to apply for it.
Your marriage certificate will cost between £11 and £35 and will allow you to do things like apply for a name change.
When it comes to changing your name, there are a few steps you need to follow to ensure it is done properly.
Some of these take time and patience to update, so make sure you are prepared for that. It's not necessarily the quickest process.
It’s important to remember that changing your name is a personal choice and not everyone will opt for it. Give your time to navigate the process at your own pace and ensure your new identity is reflected accurately across important documents and records.
Whilst not everyone wants to change their name when entering a marriage, this list should help guide you through the process should you want to take that step.
Vendor Contracts and Additional Licences
Vendor contracts are important because they define the intricate detail of what you should expect from them, the limitations of your booking and definite no-goes.
For example, your reception venue might not allow red wine to be consumed in case of spillages, or your marquee hire company might not allow for open flames under the structure.
These are things you need to know and think about in the planning process of your wedding, so that time and money is not wasted. It’s important to know the ins and outs of your agreement with your vendor and what you should expect from them.
Vendor contracts are not only to manage your expectations, but they protect both parties. If you believe you are entitled to something or have been promised something that has not been delivered, the contract will be able to back you up in writing.
It is important to remember that this works the other way around too, though. If you have signed a contract that states you must return your crockery clean, you’re going to need to know this to avoid additional cleaning fees.
You’ll also need to know what licence(s) your venue holds. Is just one room of the venue licenced for wedding ceremonies? Are they a licenced premise and can serve alcohol? Are there any restrictions to their licence? Or are they not licenced at all?
This will make a difference in whether or not you can hold a legal ceremony there, or if you have to get legally married elsewhere. Typically, your venue will share this information with you freely, but it is definitely worth asking them explicitly if it is not clear.
Another licence you may need to think about is a Temporary Events Notice (TEN). If, for example, you’re hosting a marquee wedding at a family home, you’ll likely need a TEN to inform the local council of the events and ensure you are on the right side of the law.
This will cover things like the sale of alcohol, entertainment and serving late night food. Your wedding planner should be on top of this, but should you choose to do the legwork of the wedding planning process yourself, this is definitely something to think about.
If you are having a religious ceremony, it is likely that your priest/vicar/rabbi etc. is registered to legally officiate the marriage.
When it comes to a civil ceremony, you will have to book an official registrar. This is someone whose full-time job is officiating weddings.
Now, there are other options too…
We see in the movies how friends and family members might be asked to conduct a ceremony. This, typically, happens in American movies, where their rules differ about who can apply to legally be an officiant.
Whilst there is a way to do this in the UK, it is not a legally binding marriage.
To do this, the couple would need to be legally wed separately, i.e. before or after their wedding day, by a registered officiant and then have a ‘bigger’ wedding or reception with their chosen officiant. This way, they are legally married, but just not as you would see it on the day.
Another option is celebrants. Celebrants are sort of performers; they get to know the couple, write a beautiful ceremony tailored to them as a pair, and put on a sort of show for the audience. A lot of celebrants are very funny and incredibly good at what they do - you wouldn't even know that it was a performance (Olivia Coleman Celebrant being one of our favourites at Melt Weddings).
Again, what they do is not legally binding, but the couple are given the opportunity to have speeches and stories told to make it all the more personal, special and memorable. This is because celebrants are not bound by what they have to say (as a regulated officiant is). For a marriage to be legal, there are certain words and phrases that need to be said, so by booking a celebrant, you are getting a much more personal experience.
But, because of this, you would still need to have your marriage legally officiated.
There are many ways to go about planning your wedding and it is completely up to you what you think suits you best as a couple.
We hope this has been a useful guide for you to navigate your way through the legalities of your wedding day, and let us know in the comments if there’s anything you think we’ve missed.
Written by Siobhan Tinnion
Events and Marketing Manager
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