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Civil Weddings and Civil Ceremonies

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Author: Mavis Elliot

What is a civil ceremony?

  • It contains no religious elements or anything with religious connotation.
  • It is conducted by the superintendent registrar or deputy and registered by the registrar, or deputy.
  • It can take place in a register office or a licensed venue after 8am and before 6pm, subject to staffing arrangements.
  • The service can last from 10 - 30 minutes.
  • The registrar has to receive an "Authority" for your marriage to be able to proceed, which can only be obtained by giving a notice of marriage.

  • Arranging a civil wedding

    The first thing to do if you've decided to have a civil wedding, is to choose the ideal date and time for your ceremony. Then you need to decide whether you intend to marry at a register office or in a venue that caters for civil ceremonies - much more popular and accessible nowadays.

    A civil venue has to fill certain important criteria - it must have a roof, be moored to its foundations, and licensed by the local registrar. If you're getting married in Scotland, civil or religious ceremonies can take place wherever a minister or registrar agrees to hold them. Your local registry office will have a list of all acceptable venues that can cater for your event.


    Make a provisional booking with the register office/civil venue for the date and time of the wedding possibly up to a year in advance. The earlier you do so the more likely you are to get the date you want. Remember that the Registrar's office will be busy all year round with both register office and civil venue's to cover with limited staff.

    You are entitled to marry at any register office or approved premise in England or Wales. Make an appointment with the register office in the district in which you live to give a 'Notice of Marriage'.

    Giving notice of marriage

    It is a legal requirement to give notice of marriage and, once given, your notices of marriage are displayed on the notice board at the register office for a period of fifteen days. A legal document covered by the Perjury Act 1911, a notice of marriage states the names of the people to be married, age, marital status, address, occupation, nationality and the intended venue for the marriage.

    You must then wait a further sixteen days after having given notice, before the marriage can take place. For an example, if you serve notice is on 1 May, the ceremony can take place on or after 17 May. Once given, your notice is valid for 12 months.

    You both have to give a Notice of Marriage in person the District in which you live, even if you both live in the same District, and pay a fee. Each party is also required to declare their nationality.

    You may need to produce some or all of the following when you give your Notice of Marriage. All documents must be the original (photocopies are not acceptable):

  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • Decree Absolute (if a previous marriage has ended in divorce)
  • Previous marriage certificate and spouse's death certificate (if you have been widowed)
  • Any name change deed
  • An item showing your current address, e.g. driving licence or a utility bill
  • Parental, court or Guardian permission may be needed for anyone aged 16 to 18 who wants to get married.

  • What happens next depends whether you have chosen a register office wedding or to marry in a licensed civil venue.

    For register office weddings:
  • Book the date with the registrar
  • Although most couples choose to marry in their nearest register office, you may want to get married in a different one - perhaps one nearer your chosen reception venue. Once you have your licence, make an appointment to see the registrar of this other office
  • If you decide to have readings or music in your ceremony, this is usually submitted and discussed with the registrar prior to the service. You will need his or her approval
  • Discuss other details such as music, parking, flowers, confetti, photographs, and video with the Superintendent Registrar.

  • For civil venue weddings:

  • Select the licensed venue you intend to marry in
  • Check the availability of the registrar at your local office
  • Book the venue and registrar
  • Find out from the venue what form the ceremony can take
  • If you decide to have readings or music in your ceremony, this is usually submitted and discussed with the registrar prior to the ceremony. You will need his or her approval

  • Guests and Family

    Register offices and civil venues will have a maximum number of guests that can be accommodated with comfort and for safety reasons. You will need to decide who should be at the ceremony and who will attend only the reception. The invitation you send out should make this clear to your guests.

    Wedding outfits

    The bride can wear anything from a smart outfit or full wedding dress complete with veil or even fancy dress if the mood takes you! The groom may wish to wear a full morning suit or perhaps a lounge suit but basically the day is yours so you can be as formal, or informal as you like.

    The big day arrives

    All those attending the ceremony should arrive in the building no later than about five to ten minutes before. Some registry offices and most civil venues will make it is possible for the bride to make her entrance with her escort without having seen the groom beforehand. Before the ceremony begins, the registrar will see the bride and groom to check that the information stated on the Authority is correct and to ask for their natural father's names and occupations. Any fees due will also need to be paid at this stage. Once the guests are all seated the ceremony begins.

    The Superintendent Registrar explains the legal basis of marriage in this country. You are both asked to make declarations that you are legally free to marry one another and, provided there is no legal impediment to your marriage, you exchange marriage vows. This can be accompanied with the exchange of rings if you so wish. You are now legally married to each other. The bride and groom are then asked to check the register carefully before signing. The two witnesses, who may be friends or relatives, will then be asked to sign. The bride and groom will then be usually invited to lead their wedding party out to the waiting photographer.

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