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Civil v Religious

With so much to do it's easy to forget that the most important part of any wedding is the marriage ceremony


Newlywed couple approaching stately home over lawn

As you start to think about your perfect day, you will also have to decide on what type of ceremony you want. If you have strong religious beliefs then this is probably a straightforward decision. However, if either of you is divorced or perhaps you don't share the same religion you may need to get some advice about what is, and isn't possible.

If you don't want a religious ceremony then a civil ceremony is your other option. In the England and Wales the local registrar will perform the ceremony and either takes place at a venue licensed for marriage or in the local register office. There are currently over 3000 licensed venues ranging from hotels and stately homes to theatres and sports clubs although you cannot currently get married outside or at home. In Scotland, the marriage laws are different and you have the option to have a religious ceremony just about anywhere, including in the open air in your local park or on a windswept beach.

Church of England Ceremony

As long as one of you lives in the parish and is on the electoral roll, you should be able to marry in your local church. The banns - the public announcement of your intention to marry - will be read out in the church on three consecutive Sundays, following which the marriage must take place within three months. It is usual for you both to attend church on at least one of these occasions to hear your banns being read. If one of you lives in a different parish the banns must be read there too, although not necessarily on the same Sundays.

If the church you want to marry in is outside the parish in which you live and you are not on the electoral register, you will need to apply for a special licence showing a long-standing connection with the preferred church. Just being close to your reception venue will not be deemed a good enough reason!

Current costs for a Church of England wedding are £18 for the publication of the banns and a further £12 for a certificate of banns. The marriage service costs £218 and the marriage certificate is £7.

Marriage in the Catholic Church as well as other denominations follows a similar process and it is always a good idea to sit down with your vicar, priest or rabbi before making any decisions. They will be happy to explain everything in detail and answer your questions.

The Civil Ceremony

If you don't want to have a religious ceremony or are prevented from doing so because of divorce or mixed faith, then the alternative is a civil wedding. This takes the form of a register office ceremony or a ceremony performed in a building that holds a marriage licence.

To arrange a civil wedding you need to contact the superintendent register for your district. Even if both of you live in the same district, each of you needs your own superintendent registrar's certificate so both bride and groom must apply in person. Couples then wait 15 days for the certificates to be issued - this is known as the notice period and your notices of marriage are displayed on a notice board in the register office during this period. You can hold the marriage ceremony any time after the 15-day notice period is over and the notice is valid for 12 months.

At this first appointment you can also check that your preferred date is free, available times and that a registrar is free to attend your venue if you want to have a wedding in a licensed building. This last point is very important and you should never book your venue until you know that the registrar is able to marry you on a particular date. If you are marrying out of your district you will need to speak to the superintendent registrar in that area about booking a ceremony.

If you haven't yet decided on a venue the registrar will be able to give you a list of licensed premises within your district. For a full list of over 3000 countrywide premises licensed for marriage visit www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content/marriages which tells you how to obtain the list for a small fee.

It currently costs £30 per person to give notice of your marriage, fees for a register office wedding range from about £40 on weekdays, up to about £250 at weekends. Civil ceremonies at a licensed venue are more expensive and cost up to £400 at weekends, although prices vary considerably around the country. You also have to pay £7 for the marriage certificate at either type of ceremony.

The Legalities

To be legally married in the UK you need to comply with the following rules:

Civil Partnership Ceremony

In the UK gay and lesbian couples can register their partnership during a civil partnership ceremony conducted at a register office or licensed premises much the same as a civil wedding ceremony. This type of ceremony is arranged by the superintendent registrar at your local register office.

The Ceremony - Useful Contacts

Baptists Union 01235 517700
British Humanist Association 020 7079 3580, www.humanism.org.uk
Church of England 020 7898 1000, www.cofe.anglican.org
Church of Scotland 0131 225 5722, www.churchofscotland.org.uk
General Register Office (GRO)
For England and Wales
0151 471 4200, www.ons.gov.uk
GRO for Guernsey 01481 725277
GRO for Jersey 01534 502335
GRO for Northern Ireland 028 9025 2000
GRO for Scotland 0131 314 4447
Greek Archdiocese 020 7723 4787, www.nostos.com/church
Jewish Marriage Council 020 8203 6311, www.somethingjewish.co.uk
Methodist Church 020 7222 8010 www.methodist.org.uk
United Reform Church 020 7916 2020 www.urch.org.uk

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