Ask Jefferies: I Want to Get Married or Enter a Civil Partnership Abroad – What Do I Need to Consider?

Posted on July 04, 2019

Considering the legal aspects of a marriage or a civil partnership isn’t particularly romantic, but it’s definitely worth being prepared for the future, because who knows what the future holds? Whether it’s a ‘Love Island’ style wedding in the sun or a trip to the Little White Wedding chapel in Vegas, getting a married or entering into a civil partnership abroad is an increasingly appealing option among British couples. Did you know that approximately 25% of couples now opt to have a ‘destination wedding’ as opposed to the traditional wedding?

However, many couples do not consider the legal implications this may have, such as the ‘laws of the land’ or long-term consequences on returning to the UK.

If you’re thinking of getting married or entering a civil partnership abroad, or already have, congratulations! Jefferies Solicitors are here to advise at whatever stage you are at. To help you get hitched abroad without a hitch, we’ve answered some common questions for all brides and grooms to be. 

We’re thinking of getting married abroad – do we need to register our marriage in the UK?

There’s no need to register an overseas marriage or a civil partnership in the UK, as long as you follow two rules of thumb:

  • the marriage or civil partnership is allowed under UK law
  • you obey the correct legal procedures in the country where you are married, ensuring it is also recognised in the country it took place

It should also be noted that civil partnership or same-sex marriage will not be legal or recognised in all countries, so be sure to research this when you plan your ceremony.

What do you mean by marriage ‘allowed under UK law’?

What may constitute ‘marriage’ in some countries isn’t always recognised under UK law! For example, polygamous marriages are not legally recognised and there are many religious ceremonies that don’t class ‘civil’ marriage as legal. This has recently been highlighted in respect of Islamic weddings, where the traditional ‘Nikkah’ wedding is not recognised as legitimate in the eyes of UK law and so couples are instead regarded as being ‘cohabitees’. The shock and endless arguments that could come with this news, can of course be avoided, by taking certain steps to ensure your rights and entitlements are protected in the unfortunate event of a divorce.

Not sure if  your wedding is legally binding? It’s worth consulting with a professional Solicitor to ensure you are covered. Or, if you still wish to carry out a religious ceremony rather than a civil ceremony, there are still steps in place to ensure you are better protected, such as a pre-nuptial agreement. Speak to one of our Family Law team for more advice.

What about the religions of other countries in marriage?

There are religious formalities to consider when you are getting married abroad. In many countries, there is an established legal line between what is regarded to be a ‘civil’ ceremony and what constitutes a ‘religious’ ceremony. You will need to ensure that the ceremony is indeed seen as a ‘civil’ ceremony if you wish it to be legally acknowledged on your return to the UK.

Religious requirements may also be specific to the area, or even the venue – such as the church – you have chosen. Beware of what to expect and exactly what you are ‘signing up’ for so you don’t get caught in any confusion or conflict. We would strongly recommend getting a Solicitor by your side to help you take precautions before the ceremony.

What else do you mean by ‘correct procedures in the country where you are married’? 

When getting married abroad, anywhere in the world, there are some simple precautionary steps that should always be taken. Whether it’s Spain, Holland or Timbuktu, you should always check if there are any local laws or matrimonial regimes that may affect you! We recommend you contact the embassy in your chosen destination to understand the requirements, ideally with the guidance of a Solicitor.

As noted, civil partnership and same-sex marriage are not recognised or legal in some countries, so you must always check the destination in question first. If this applies to you, our Solicitors can advise you with the legal aspects of a civil partnership or a same-sex marriage abroad to ensure you are safely within your rights.

Also, be careful not to inadvertently enter into a pre-nup agreement! Some countries have a tick box on the marriage application to enter into a particular statutory matrimonial property regime. This may be recognised as a ‘maintenance agreement’ on your return to the UK, which could affect your financial plans in the future as a couple, or could be critical in the unexpected event of a divorce.

At Jefferies Solicitors, we can help all couples to make their pre-nuptial agreement before their wedding, and can advise with next steps in your chosen destination. Contact our specialist Family Law team for guidance.

What if I want to register my marriage or civil partnership in the UK anyway?

There is no requirement for you to register an overseas marriage or civil partnership in the UK. You may be required to prove your marriage or civil partnership is valid by providing the original copies of your marriage documents. So, after the wedding, you should always obtain several certified copies of the marriage or civil partnership certificate, and any other related documents, as these may be difficult to obtain once back in the UK. A certified translation may also be required.

These documents become important in the unfortunate event of divorce or dissolution, so make sure you look after them. If you need advice regarding a divorce or dissolution after an overseas marriage, send your enquiry to our dedicated Divorce Solicitors team in Essex. Plus, look out for our next article: Getting Divorced or Dissolution After Marriage Abroad!

Alternatively, there is nothing stopping you from walking down the registrars aisle again and formalising your overseas marriage or civil partnership in the UK.

How can Jefferies Solicitors help with my abroad marriage or civil partnership?

Got your own questions? At Jefferies, we take a personal approach to every client and understand no two marriages are the same. Whether you are getting married abroad, or have been married abroad and now need advice about your legal rights and entitlements, get in touch with one of our Solicitors today. Call us today on 01702 332 311 or email family@jefferieslaw.co.uk.