By Vicki Rawlins, associate solicitor in the Family Law team

A lot of couples' wedding plans for 2020 have needed to be reviewed in order to make the difficult decision of whether to proceed and almost certainly “downsize”, or alternatively, whether to postpone in the hope of having their dream wedding as hoped, but delayed.

Deciding to marry is one of the most important decisions in life. While couples have much greater freedom to decide the finer details of their big day than the traditional heterosexual church marriage allowed, there are still fairly stringent rules as to when, where and how the actual wedding ceremony can take place.

Reform in this area has traditionally been fairly slow. Until the middle of the 18th century, marriages must have taken place before an ordained clergyman of the Church of England, but could take place at any venue.

In 1753 the Marriage Act required all marriages to be conducted by a minister in a parish church of the Church of England, save for Jews and Quakers who were exempt. This was extended in 1836 to religious non-conformists and Catholics. Non-religious marriages were also allowed in register offices for the first time.

Much more choice has been granted in this millennium. The Civil Partnership Act in 2004 allowed same-sex civil partnerships, followed by the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 which introduced civil marriage for same-sex couples. From 31st December 2019, opposite-sex couples can also enter into a civil partnership.

I therefore welcome the news that, from the 3rd September 2020, the Law Commission is engaged in a three-month consultation to review the following:

  • To modernise and improve wedding law
  • Allow weddings to take place outdoors
  • Allow weddings to take place in a wider variety of buildings, e.g. in private homes and cruise ships
  • Offer couples greater flexibility over the form their wedding ceremonies will take, enabling them, if they desire, to use a variety of ceremonies to mark their weddings
  • Simplify the process and remove unnecessary red tape to make it fair to couples, more efficient, and easier to follow, e.g. complete the initial stage of giving notice of their intended wedding online or by post, rather than having to do so in person
  • Provide a framework that could allow non-religious belief organisations and/or independent celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings
  • Ensure that fewer weddings conducted according to religious rites result in a marriage that the law does not recognise at all
  • Whether specific vows should be required during a ceremony
  • How marriages should be registered
  • What the consequences should be for couples who do not comply with any requirements

The consultation ends on 3rd December 2020. The aim is to produce final recommendations for reform in the second half of 2021.

My fingers are crossed that the outcome will be modern reform to allow couples greater freedom to tailor their special day as they want. And while I hope that every couple get their happy ever after, for their own peace of mind I also hope that they enter into a pre-nuptial agreement, but that is for another article another day!