Your wedding ceremony is the most important part of your whole day. Find out everything you need to know about arranging a civil ceremony in the UK, from the legal aspects to the accepted etiquette, with inspiration on decor and style.
You have fallen in love, and now you’ve decided to make it official by getting married. You’re sure that you don’t want to have a religious wedding so arranging a civil ceremony is the way to go. The good news is arranging a civil ceremony is actually very straighforward, there are just a few legal guidlines you need to be aware of. First you should consider what kind of ceremony you would like, and where you would like it.
You could choose to marry in a register office or any other venue licensed for civil ceremonies. There are still some restrictions as to where you legally can’t get married in the UK but also other ways of having the wedding ceremony you really want with a wedding celebrant – but a civil ceremony is legally binding.
Arranging a Civil Ceremony: Legal Aspects
In order to book a civil wedding, you must first give notice of your intention to marry at your local register office, (or offices if you live in different areas), at least 28 days before the wedding. Your notice will then be displayed publicly in the register office for those 28 days. You will also need to reside in the registration district for at least 7 days prior to giving notice at the register office.
If you are arranging a civil ceremony in a different area, you should also contact the register office for the district in which the marriage is due to take place.
You will also need to pay a small fee and show the superintendent registrar documentary evidence of your:
- name (take your birth certificate along)
- age (the minimum legal age for getting married in England and Wales is 16 years of age but written consent may be required for anyone under 18 years)
- nationality (ideally in the form of your passport)
- evidence of your address (shown on your driving licence or a utility bill)
- evidence of the ending of any previous marriage or civil partnership
When arranging a civil ceremony in the UK, you will need to check whether you are subject to immigration control, as you will need to produce documentary evidence to the superintendent registrar to confirm that you satisfy the eligibility requirements.
Following this period, you will be legally able to hold your civil ceremony within 12 months.
You will also need to make sure that a superintendant registrar (to conduct the service) and a registrar of marriages (to record the details in the marriage register and issue your certificate) will be free to attend your chosen venue on the day. Find out more about the legal aspects of civil ceremonies.
The earlier you book, the more likely you are to get the date you want. Registrars are busy people and they attend both register offices and licensed civil wedding venues.
Before booking a venue you should consider how many guests you will be inviting to the ceremony, wedding breakfast and evening reception, and ensure the venue you wish to book has enough space. When arranging a civil ceremony, ou may need to book one venue for your ceremony and another for your reception, but many civil cermony venues will have space for both meaning you can have your whole celebration in the same place, and perhaps even sleep there too. You should also consider access for any disabled guests or those with pushchairs and prams. For smaller guestlists, discover these intimate ceremony ideas for smaller weddings.
Arranging a Civil Ceremony: Licensed Venues
The good news is today there is a wonderful variety of venues now licensed for civil ceremonies, from London’s iconic Gherkin, seen above, to beautiful stately homes such Stationer’s Hall and Garden, seen below. There are many other stylish city wedding venues of all sorts, including unusual places such as football grounds, museums and even Victorian police cells where you can also go ghost hunting on your big day (yes, really!)
There are also now plenty of wonderful outdoor wedding venues where you can tie the knot in the great outdoors surrounded by stunning countryside views all around and the warm sun and soft breeze on your face, weather permitting…
If you want a fairytale wedding then a romantic historic castle licensed for civil weddings could be ideal. For couples who love to be beside the seaside, these gorgeous coastal wedding venues will appeal.
If you’re planning to have an informal country style wedding then consider taking your vows in a rustic barn wedding venue, or for a more formal celebration, these sumptuously luxurious wedding venues are fit for royalty.
Once your venue is booked, you can start to plan the finer points such as your marriage vows, the music and any readings. It is important to note that you are permitted to include readings, songs or music, but not anything that is religious so no Bible readings or hymns. You will also need to have two witnesses present as you sign the register.
Arranging a Civil Ceremony: Decor and Finishing Touches
Most wedding venues will have an in-house wedding co-ordinator to help you with your planning and advise on everything from music to decor. They will know the best way to present the ceremony venue, where to add flowers and whether or not there is space for any additional decoration such as a personalised backdrop or decoration to the chairs. You may wish to make your aisle look absolutely unique with personalised wedding ceremony decorations, including one of these ceremony aisle runners. There are some very lovely personalised items for your wedding day available, many in a range of colours and designs to suit your theme.
Lighting is also worth some consideration as a ceremony in a romantic castle can look and feel truly incredible under candle light, with added lanterns to light the way, just as fairylights can make anywhere look pretty!
Arranging a Civil Ceremony: Further Reading
Find out more about arranging your civil ceremony and planning your wedding and how to make your civil wedding ceremony completely unique with the symbolic wedding sand ceremony. Download and print off the ultimate wedding planner checklist.