One of the questions I get asked the most by couples making an enquiry about having a celebrant wedding ceremony is ‘How does it work’? Specifically when it comes to the legalities of their marriage. Here’s what I tell them:
Separate the marriage from the wedding
In some countries, eg France, it is usual to have the legal marriage ceremony in a town hall, or nominated official building, before the wedding ceremony takes place. It’s the same process at the moment in England and Wales when you choose to have a celebrant ceremony. Currently a legal marriage can only be officiated by a member of the clergy or a council registrar.
However, the marriage laws in England and Wales have just been reviewed and a proposal has been put forward to license the officiant in future, rather than the building.
This opens up the possibility of independent celebrants being legally licensed to perform ceremonies, without the need for a separate registry office transaction. If this happens (and we have our fingers tightly crossed) it is not likely to come into force until at least 2025.
Reframe your thinking
The wedding is not the marriage! Think of the legal bit as ‘wedding admin’ – something to get done before you can enjoy your beautiful bespoke celebrant wedding ceremony. Consider the legal process to be the marriage, and the ceremony itself to be the wedding.
Here are 5 easy steps to arranging the wedding ceremony of your dreams…
1. Book your statutory ceremony
The statutory ceremony is the part that legalises your marriage. Most of my couples choose to have a basic (statutory) ceremony with just themselves and two witnesses, in a 10 minute service. The costs depends on the area that the registry office is in and ranges from £47 to £60.
The ceremony normally takes place in a small office within the council building and most councils offer statutory ceremonies one or two mornings a week. You may have to phone them to establish which days they offer, as they are often not advertised on their websites.
Note: you do not have to book your statutory ceremony at your local council registry office – it can take place at any registry office that offers that service, so if you are prepared to travel you’re likely to be able to book your ceremony on a day that suits you.
Some registry offices only take bookings 3-4 months ahead for statutory ceremonies, so call them and find out what their timescales are.
When you book your statutory ceremony make it clear to the registrar that you are having a celebrant wedding ceremony so you require the most basic ceremony at the lowest possible cost.
Here are the links to some registry offices in Berks, Hants and Surrey:
Wokingham: Book a civil ceremony – Wokingham Borough Council
Reading: Marriages & civil partnerships – Reading Borough Council
Hampshire county council: Booking a ceremony | Hampshire County Council (hants.gov.uk)
Surrey County Council: Plan your wedding ceremony – Surrey County Council (surreycc.gov.uk)
2. Give notice of intent to marry
Make an appointment at the registry office you pay your council tax to (if you live separately you will have to attend two separate registry office appointments), to give notice of intent to marry. Some registry offices have an online booking facility for this appointment.
You will need to take ID documentation with you – see your local registry office website for more information.
You need to have booked your legal ceremony before giving notice – you have to state the location of your legal ceremony on the notice form.
3. Choose and book your celebrant and your venue
Once you have booked your legal ceremony and given notice it’s a good idea to choose and book your wedding celebrant. Handpick someone who suits your personalities, style and gets the vibe you want for your wedding ceremony.
A good celebrant will listen and work with you to create the wedding you want, whilst inputting ideas and suggestions that help you make decisions on structure and content.
Of course, you can book your venue at any time but it’s advisable to book it once you’ve decided on a date for your wedding ceremony. There are still backlogs of weddings at many venues so if you have your heart set on somewhere particular it’s best to confirm with them as soon as you can.
4. Do the legal bit
You do not have to exchange rings or vows in this service, you simply have to repeat the declaratory wedding vows after the registrar. No frills, no fuss. Many of my couples turn up to do the legal part in jeans and a t-shirt while others decide to make a day of it, do the legals and then go for a nice meal.
5. Enjoy your wedding ceremony!
The big day! You are free to celebrate in your way, no rules or restrictions, complete freedom of choice over the style and content of your ceremony. Enjoy!
As your celebrant I am happy to help and advise you on the legal process, just get in touch.