Planning makes perfect, a step-by-step guide to all you need to know – and then some…

The Ceremony - Church or Civil? - Legal Requirements

Religious or civil, register office or approved venues, a wedding can take place any day of the week between 8am and 6pm. While most still take place on Saturdays, Fridays are gaining in popularity, allowing guests travelling a fair distance the opportunity to make a long weekend of the celebrations. Increasingly popular too are weddings abroad, attended by a small group of friends and family and often with an evening reception for a larger group once you return home.

Photo by Neolimn Photography

Church Weddings

The Church of England welcomes couples who want to marry in church whatever their beliefs, whether or not they are christened and whether or not they are regular churchgoers, though same sex couples are currently limited to civil ceremonies.

A marriage conducted in church will include asking for God’s guidance and blessing, adding a spiritual dimension to the ceremony which many couples find particularly special and moving.

Your first step is to find a church, which need not necessarily be your local one, and arrange an appointment with the vicar so you can get to know him or her and complete some forms. The vicar will explain the church fees and the system of reading the banns.

Banns are the public announcement of your marriage and legally must be called in church for three Sundays during the three months before the wedding. They have to be read in the parish where each of you lives and also in the church where you will marry, if this is different.

Although the vows you make to each other in church are those which have been handed down through generations, you still have a huge amount of influence over the service.
You can choose your hymns and music, readings and what prayers you would like and family and friends can contribute to the service.

It’s important to establish early on what the church’s policy is on photographs or video being taken during the service, whether any secular music is allowed and on the throwing of confetti within the church grounds.

Ask too about other couples marrying on the same day as it may be possible to share the cost of the church flowers.
Religious services in churches outside the established Church of England require a licence from the authorised registrar of your area and will have different requirements, so see your priest or minister as early as possible.

Photo by Simon Furlong Photography

Second Marriages

Though the Roman Catholic Church does not condone divorce, there are some circumstances in which the Church of England will marry divorced people, so it’s worth consulting your vicar. Even if you are limited to a civil ceremony, some ministers will offer a Service of Blessing afterwards.

Photo by Norsworthy Photography

Register Office

To marry at a register office or building approved for civil ceremonies, your first step is to contact the registrar and/or venue to confirm registrar and date are available.

Then both the bride and groom must each give notice of the wedding in person at the register office covering the area where they live (and where they have been in residence for at least seven days).

If you both live in the same district you should attend the register office together – but whether you do or not, ring your local office first as many now operate an appointments system (see under Registration Services for the register office in your area).

Each of you will have to produce evidence of your name, age, marital status and nationality – for example, a current valid full passport. If you don’t have one, you’ll need two documents – for example a birth certificate and utility bill.
If you have been married before, you’ll need evidence that you are now free to marry – for instance a decree absolute or former spouse’s death certificate.

Photocopies of any documents are not normally acceptable.
The fee for giving notice is £35 each and you must wait 15 clear days before the wedding.
In exceptional circumstances the Registrar General may consider waiving the waiting period.
A notice of marriage is valid for 12 months.

Ask your registrar about personalising the ceremony with your choice of words and music – but do remember that a civil ceremony can have no religious references and be sure to clear your selections well in advance of the day.

Photo by Blue Skyes Photography

Licensed Venues

It’s now 20 years since a change in the law meant that venues throughout the country could be licensed to hold to hold civil wedding and civil partnership ceremonies and a huge variety of different locations have taken advantage of the change. You can now have your ceremony and reception under one roof in locations as diverse as stately homes, zoos, racetracks, football stadia, farms, donkey sanctuaries and, of course, hotels.

You still have to give notice of your intention to marry in the same way as you do for register office weddings and, in the same way, you can personalise the ceremony to suit yourselves although no religious music or readings are allowed.

Though this option costs more than a register office ceremony – you will have to pay for the hire of the room and it costs more to have the registrar travel to you – it is becoming increasingly popular as the trend away from church weddings continues.

Wedding pictured at the Mayfair Hotel, Bournemouth

Marrying Abroad

Combining your wedding with the holiday of a lifetime is gaining in popularity with exotic destinations luring an increasing number of couples. The sun-kissed beaches of the Caribbean, the Maldives and Bali are among the most popular choices and many tour operators now offer all-inclusive packages.

The legal requirements for each country may differ, but generally if a marriage is recognised as legally binding in the country in which it takes place, it will be recognised in the UK as well.

Consult an experienced tour operator and allow at least three months for all the paperwork to be properly processed.

Photo by Jan McGready Photography

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