So, you are having your dream wedding, led by an experienced Celebrant, and you are excited to know that your wedding ceremony will be where you want it, when you want it and totally right for you.
You haven’t had to make any compromises on content, you don’t have to say words like ‘solemn’ or ‘impediment’ and there’s no legal jargon in sight!
To make your commitment legally binding (through marriage or civil partnership) there are a few simple steps you need to take either before, after or alongside the planning of your totally awesome Celebrant-led ceremony…
Step 1. Decide Who Will Be There
Who do you want to be present during the legal marriage? The law requires only two witnesses over the age of 16 so it is entirely possible (and often preferable) to have only a couple of close friends in attendance to see the admin get done. The rest of your family and friends will see all the important promises, rituals and such on the wedding day, when you get wed by your lovely Celebrant.
If however you want family and/or friends to attend the legal ceremony then you will have to keep that in mind when it comes to the next two decisions…
Step 2. Decide When To Do It
Do you want to get the admin done before or after your actual wedding day? Many folks choose to go through the legalities a day or so before the celebration day so that everything is official and taken care of once you’re wedding Celebrant declares you wed.
It is possible to have the legal and non-legal elements take place on the same day if you can get your timings right. Very occasionally, if your registrar is willing, this can happen at the same place (see below). You might also decide to deal with it all after your wedding day at a time best suited to you.
Step 3. Decide Where To Do It
The most obvious choice of location for a short and sweet paperwork session is at a local registry office. Most have a couple of room options to suit the number of guests in attendance and some have a lovely set up within. Regardless of aesthetic, what is most important is that they can fulfil all the legal requirements here, usually for the lowest possible cost (approx. £50 without guests). Always check with the local registry office for their up to date prices and availability.
If you are hoping to do the legal part at the same venue as your wedding ceremony be aware that many councils are very strict about not allowing the two services to be close in time or location. Some will downright refuse to let you do your paperwork in the same place as your beautifully, unique wedding ceremony. Be sure to broach your needs early in the conversation so there are no unfortunate surprises down the line.
If they do allow it then that venue must be registered for legal weddings. You will likely pay the venue a fee for using their registered space, as well as booking and paying for the presence of two Registrars for your allotted time slot. This can easily match or exceed the cost of a Celebrant and would not be lowered should you only wish to ‘sign the paperwork’ there.
The most time and cost effective method is to have a visit to the local registry office, pay the minimum fee for dealing with the admin of getting married, and then invest in having the ceremony of your dreams with your Celebrant.
Once you’ve made these decisions its time to move into the legalities…
Step 4. Give Notice
You must inform your local council (or the council of the county you intend to be legally married in) that you are getting married. This must be done in person a minimum of 28 days prior to your legal marriage appointment so be sure to book well in advance.
Step 5. Give Instruction
You will be asked to instruct the Registrar on the content you wish to include during your legal service; first in writing via a postal form and then again on the day, in person. You can also call them to speak about it should you wish.
Don’t be afraid to tell them if you don’t want a big performance!
If the legal process is just admin for you then inform them that you simply wish to speak the ‘Declaration’ and ‘Contracting’ phrases to make the marriage legal. You do not have to make any further promises or include any other rituals (such as exchanging rings) if you do not wish to.
If you do want to include a little more content for this part then feel free to curate it to suit your needs; provided it meets the content restrictions.
Some Registrars have more experience providing the ‘bare bones’ approach than others, but all are obliged to do as you request; so be bold and ask for what you want!
6. Get It Done
Once all the above has been planned and arranged you simply need to turn up at the given time on the given date at the arranged place with two witnesses and do the following:
- speak the Legal Declaration (“I know of no legal reason why I can not marry this person…”)
- speak the Contracting Phrase (“I, take you, to be my…”)
- sign the register and let the Registrars fill out the necessary paperwork*
* Fair warning: this can be bit of a wait, if you aren’t having all the extra promises.
My Registrar said: “Steve fills out the rest of the paperwork now, we usually have talking over this bit… erm, chat amongst yourselves.”
So we did! It was actually a great opportunity to take a few photos and consolidate plans for the ‘real’ ceremony the next day. I think she was already a little bit confused as we’d arrived wearing jeans and trainers. But she managed to get our name wrong when presenting us with the marriage certificate, so she got us back in the end.
Then you can head home, or to your venue, or whatever you have planned next safe in the knowledge that the admin is over. Now you can focus on your actual wedding ceremony.
The one that is nothing to do with the law and everything to do with love.