By Deborah Levy, Consultant in the Family Law team
There's hardly an area in our lives which hasn't been touched by the pandemic. From online quizzes and exercise classes; meeting work colleagues, friends and family via video calls; a plethora of takeaway options, and a huge growth in home deliveries the Government now has greater impetus than ever to review our ancient laws relating to where and how couples can tie the knot.
Latest statistics confirmed that at least 48,000 weddings have been cancelled since the first lockdown. I know many couples who had lovely weddings booked last year, only to find that they had to postpone them two or even three times. In the best of times, arranging a wedding can be very stressful. The pandemic has also made most of us question what is really important. This has led many couples to reconsider the cost of an expensive wedding, versus simply ‘getting on with it’.
Good news is here: the Law Commission wants to see changes in England and Wales to enable couples to marry at alternative venues, be it home, outdoors - and even remotely. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, the rules have been relaxed however in England and Wales couples must choose between a civil or religious ceremony with an officiant and specific wording, with no option for a legally-binding ceremony reflecting other beliefs. The Ministry of Justice has said it wants to ensure the law "better reflects modern society".
The alternative options being considered are outdoor weddings or simply via a video call which would have addressed current concerns at various times during the pandemic. There may be good reasons (ill health, tax considerations) why a couple cannot get together physically, but for legal or financial reasons they need to marry
The likelihood is that significant costs could also be saved. Whilst receiving an invitation to a destination wedding pre-Covid was a delight, it also caused concern for some as they counted the cost of travel and eating into their holiday allowance, especially if they received a spate of invitations. One can visualise the future with weddings over Zoom or a wedding being witnessed in a park brightening up everyone’s day!
There have also been many cases questioning the validity of marriage ceremonies taking place in people’s home and in mosques. This is not reflective of the diverse cultures which exist in our modern society. The reforms will hopefully address these at the same time.
Restrictions forcing couples to cancel weddings during the coronavirus pandemic have highlighted "archaic" marriage laws, a legal body has said.