A list of commonly asked questions about having a civil wedding ceremony.
We answer the important questions about tying the knot in a civil wedding ceremony
Q: We’re not sure where to hold our civil ceremony ‐ what choices do we have?
A: A non‐religious civil wedding gives you lots of freedom, particularly when it comes to choosing where to hold the ceremony. While it can’t be held in a place of religious worship, the only other stipulation in England and Wales is that it is held at an approved civil venue licensed to hold weddings under the Marriage Act. Here is a list of alternatives for you…
A register office
A register office makes a low cost venue for your civil ceremony, but take a look at the premises first, as governmental offices can be quite stark and your ceremony can feel less ‘special’ than other options.
An approved venue
You can choose one of the thousands of approved (licensed) buildings in England and Wales, such as stately homes or castles which essentially offer the same ceremony as in a register office, but set in more interesting surroundings. In the confetti venue channel, we have over 2000 civil venues listed, including contact details, photos, sample menus, costs, facilities and contact details. Search our directory of venues or take a look at our venue channel for some great ideas.
An unusual licensed building
Do your research and you’ll find that there are many unusual venues licensed to hold civil ceremonies too, such as golf clubs, museums or zoos. Choosing somewhere quirky can have the added advantage of additional interest for guests and can help make your day even more personal as it can reflect your favourite hobbies or sport. (Just make sure you are BOTH keen on the venue and you won’t regret agreeing to walk out past the monkey enclosure in your gown!) Take a look at our guide to special interest wedding venues.
You could always choose to hold your civil ceremony abroad, (let’s face it, English weather can be a tad unpredictable!), and wedding packages offered by tour operators can make this an inexpensive option. Check out our guide to getting married abroad or visit your local travel agent to find out more.
Q: Where can we hold a civil ceremony in Scotland?
A: Wherever you live, you may marry in a civil ceremony in Scotland by submitting notice forms to the registrar up to three months and not less than 15 days prior to the day. In Scotland, civil or religious ceremonies can take place wherever a minister or registrar agrees to hold them. Visit gro‐scotland.gov.uk for more details.
Q: Can we have a humanist service after a civil ceremony?
Legally, you are allowed to marry in a register office and then have a humanist service of blessing afterwards. This is a non‐legal ceremony in which you say your own secular vows and although it isn¹t legally binding, it does have the advantage of being able to take place anywhere. Take a look at guide to humanist weddings or visit humanism.org.uk.
Q: We are both big football fans – can we get married at our football team’s stadium?
A: Even if you dream of exchanging your vows under the hallowed goal netting at your local football club, you sadly can’t at the moment. In England and Wales, it is currently illegal to get married outdoors, as licensed venues have to be permanent and covered. However, many football stadiums have licensed club rooms where couples can tie the knot and then have photos on the pitch afterwards. Maybe you could have a football strip dress code for guests too?! Take a look at our guide to sporting venues.
Q: We’d love our friend Nick to act as our celebrant and perform the wedding ceremony in our lounge… is this allowed?
A: Asking a non‐registrar friend to conduct the ceremony and using a non‐licensed venue won’t make you legally married as a result. However, all is not lost as you could have this DIY version of a wedding as long as you follow certain protocol first. If you’ve got your heart set on a really special venue or location which isn’t licensed, you can have a low‐key register office ceremony first, before holding a ceremony in your dream location. This could either be a Humanist ceremony or a custom‐made DIY ceremony, depending on your beliefs, but it basically allows you to have the ceremony you want without worrying about the legalities.
Q: How can I find out if my ideal venue is licensed?
A: The best place to find fabulous licensed venues is in the venues channel in our supplier’s directory. Alternatively, if you have a particular venue in mind, give them a call or look online for information. For a full list of legally approved premises, call the General Register Office on 0151 471 4817 or visit gro.gov.uk/gro/content to request a list.
Q: We live in Northern Ireland. Where can we hold a civil ceremony here?
A: Couples in Northern Ireland can get married in a registrar’s office or at an approved venue. Alternatively, you can apply for a temporary approval for a civil marriage to be conducted at a place of your choice, such as your own home. To do this, you should contact the registrar for the district in which the marriage will take place who will advise you about the fee and the application procedure.
Q: How much will a civil wedding cost?
A: This varies from venue to venue, so it’s best to get a few quotes from the type of venue you want before you set your budget ‐‐ check out our venues supplier directory for more information.
Q: Can I incorporate traditional wedding etiquette, such as having bridesmaids, into a civil ceremony?
A: Of course! Many couples who opt to marry in a licensed venue adopt traditional church etiquette, for example, by having bridesmaids and a best man. You can also set up an ‘aisle’ at your venue, to allow you to be ‘given away’ in front of all your guests. The only real rule is that nothing with religious connotations can be incorporated.
Q: I’d like a church blessing after our civil ceremony, is this allowed?
A: This is exactly what the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall did when they married. You can have a service of prayer and dedication after a civil ceremony, which largely follows the same pattern as a church wedding, though with a few differences:
- banns are not called
- there is no entry in the church’s marriage register
- the husband and wife enter together and sit at the front of the church together
- rings are not exchanged
- This is useful in cases where one or both of you is divorced and may not be legally able to marry in your church of choice.
Q: Is a civil ceremony held abroad recognized as legally binding here in the UK?
A: Getting married overseas is becoming increasingly popular, as many couples are keen to escape to warmer weather or hold a more intimate wedding without family and friends. There are plenty of options here, ranging from a drive‐in wedding in Vegas to a beachside Caribbean ceremony, but you still need to make sure the ceremony will be legally binding by checking the marriage will be carried out in accordance with local laws. It’s best to book through a reputable tour operator who will do most of the paperwork for you, but always check with the tourist board of your chosen country that everything’s fully legal and that you know exactly which documents you need to take with you to complete your dream civil ceremony. Check out our guide to getting married abroad or visit your local travel agent to find out more.