Government says “not the right time” for review of marriage law

In December 2015 the Law Commission published a scoping report, which identified issues with current marriage law in England and Wales. It highlighted potential problems with how marriages are registered, what paperwork a couple must complete before their wedding, who can conduct marriages, and where they can take place. The main law which governs marriage is from 1836 and, says the Law Commission, has failed to keep pace with modern Britain.

How and where marriages can take place is tightly regulated. At present, couples have to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony. If a couple does not comply with the legal requirements, which may happen with some religious ceremonies, their marriage may not be legally recognised. The Commission has found that people often discover their lack of legal status only at the time of relationship breakdown.

The Government has now written to the Law Commission in response to this report, telling them that it is not the right time for a full review of marriage law, but has not ruled out further work in the future. Dominic Raab, the Justice Minister, has said that whilst the Government does acknowledge that marriage is one of our most important institutions, if there are to be any opportunities for changes to primary legislation, these changes will focus on protecting the most vulnerable children and families.

In response Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins said: “Getting married can be one of the best days in someone’s life. But our Victorian laws haven’t kept pace with the modern world. Reform has the potential to allow all couples to marry in a way that’s meaningful to them. We understand parliamentary time is precious at the moment but don’t believe that the need for reform will go away. We hope we can continue our work in this area in the future, and welcome the Minister’s promise to keep the situation under review.”

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors.

Suffolk Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email