Ellis Jones
DATE PUBLISHED: 10 Mar 2016 LAST UPDATED: 10 Mar 2016

Is my marriage valid in the UK?

It is becoming increasingly common for couples to choose to marry in an exotic location or to have their wedding ceremony in their country of origin. In the unfortunate situation that a marriage ends in separation, it is important to establish the validity of a foreign marriage as this will have a significant impact on various issues arising from separation including:

  • Divorce;
  • Financial remedies following marital breakdown;
  • Legitimacy of children;
  • Tax;
  • Wills and inheritance; and
  • Immigration.

Generally, the English courts will wish to recognise foreign marriages, where possible, provided that the following criteria are met:-

  1. The marriage ceremony must be a valid form of marriage by the law of the country of celebration;
  2. The marriage must comply with all procedures and regulations under the law of the country of celebration. This includes giving notice of the ceremony and having the relevant number of witnesses;
  3. Each party to the marriage, under the law of the country where they are domiciled, must have capacity to marry. This includes issues such as age, gender, consent and mental capacity;
  4. Any previous marriage of either party must first have been validly terminated, either by divorce, annulment or judicial separation under English law; and
  5. There must be evidence of the marriage i.e. a marriage certificate or the equivalent of. The original certificate will be required, which must be translated and certified.

In certain circumstances, the English courts may decline recognition of a foreign marriage on public policy grounds. This is usually where one party has been deceitful to the local authorities, for example in relation to immigration. Where the marriage has already been accepted as valid for immigration purposes, the marriage would normally be recognised in England.

An interesting example is Mick Jagger’s marriage to Jerry Hall. Jagger and Hall married in 1991, in a Hindu ceremony in Bali. However, 8 years later their marriage was declared null and void on the basis that the marriage ceremony was not valid according to Indonesian law thus not recognised in England.

To avoid any difficulties, anyone considering marrying abroad should check that they have followed the correct marriage procedure according to the law of the relevant country before the ceremony takes place. This often involves seeking legal advice or assistance. It is also advisable to obtain several certified copies of the marriage certificate at the time of the ceremony, to avoid any unnecessary difficulties in obtaining further copies in the future. Alternatively, the marriage documents can be sent from the relevant country to the General Register Office in the UK.

Anyone who is unsure of their legal marital status is encouraged to seek legal advice.

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