Marriage law is outdated and in need of reform according to the Law Commission

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The Law Commission, which advises the government on reform, has carried out a scoping review of marriage law and concluded that it is outdated, unnecessarily restrictive and fails to serve today’s diverse society. The current law leads to many inconsistencies, such as allowing some faiths to marry outdoors but not others.

Where and how marriages can take place is tightly regulated. Civil marriages must take place in a register office or approved premises and cannot contain religious content. With certain exceptions, religious ceremonies must take place within a registered place of religious worship. Many people would like the chance to marry in a place more personal to them, including outdoors.

There is a lack of clarity that has led to uncertainty and to some people unexpectedly finding that their marriage is not legally recognised, often at a point of crisis such as separation or bereavement.

Marriage law in England and Wales has evolved over many years and was last modernised in 1836 with some aspects of it, such as reading the banns in church, dating back to the 12th century. Designed to meet the needs of the 19th century, it does not cater adequately for the many faiths and non-religious beliefs of the 21st century.

Marriage law needs to protect the interests of the state and individuals in preventing sham and forced marriage, ensuring that only those free and eligible to do so are able to marry and keeping a record of all marriages that take place.

Professor Hopkins, Law Commissioner for property, family and trust law, said: “The Law Commission believes that a modern law of marriage should allow couples to get married in the way they want and in a place that is meaningful to them, while continuing to recognise the interests of society and the state in protecting the status of marriage.”

At this stage the Law Commission is not recommending specific changes but outlines the questions that would need to be examined to achieve a modern law of marriage.

For more information, help or advice, please contact our Family team.

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