The legal paperwork
First, you need to ‘Give Notice’ to your local register office, there is a fee for this of around £35 - £47 (depends on where you live). You must give a minimum of 28 days notice of your intention to marry, and once notice is given you must marry within a year. You will both need to attend your local register office, and you have to have lived within their area for at least the past 7 days.
You will need to take with you to this appointment documents that prove your name, age and nationality, e.g. birth certificate, passport. If you’ve changed your name or previously been married you’ll also need your change of name deed poll or decree absolute. If you’ve been widowed, you’ll need your previous partner’s death certificate too.
You will also need to prove your address, so you’ll documents such as driving licence, utility bills, mortgage or tenancy papers.
Full details of this documentary evidence and residency qualifying period is available at www.gov.uk/marriages
At this appointment, you give details of where you will be getting married – which for the purposes of this notice will be the register office you choose for your statutory ceremony (see the next section).
Once you have attended this appointment, your details will be on public display in that registration district for 28 days. Providing there have been no formal objections, your marriage authorities will be issued. These authorities are valid for 12 months from date of issue.
The statutory ceremony
You will need to attend the register office to complete the legal paperwork, this can be done before or after your wedding ceremony. The ‘statutory ceremony’ is a simple ceremony held at the register office, fees vary (depending on which registry office you go to) but it’s usually around £50. You will also need to pay £4 for your marriage certificate.
You will need to book the date and time for your statutory ceremony in advance, some register offices only offer this ceremony at limited times (e.g. every other Wednesday morning), so book this as soon as you can. However, this ceremony does not necessarily need to take place in the district in which you live so, before giving your notice, you might want to check to find a registry office which offers a ceremony day to suit you.
In the ceremony, the only words you are legally required to speak are the declaratory words and the contractual vows, these are:
Declaratory Words - ‘I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, (your full name) may not be joined in matrimony to (your partner’s full name).’
Or by replying ‘I am’ to the question ‘Are you (your full name) free lawfully to marry (your partner’s full name)?
Contractual Vows - ‘I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, (your full name), do take you, (your partner’s full name), to be my lawful wedded wife/husband.’
You will then sign the marriage register, and you will need two witnesses for this.
At this ceremony, you do not need to exchange rings or vows, you do not need to have music or readings, you do not need to wear anything special (unless, of course, you want to). This is a purely legal requirement to register your marriage.
Then … You are free to have your celebrant-led ceremony whenever you want, wherever you want and you can say and do whatever you like!
This information is accurate as of January 2020