Are Religious Marriages legally recognised in England & Wales?

Insights - 13/12/2017

Religious wedding ceremonies of all faiths take place across the country every day. Yet we do not know how many of these couples take a step back from the excitement (and stress) of planning their big day to question whether or not their marriage will be legally recognised in England & Wales.

For a religious marriage to be legally recognised in England & Wales it has to take place at a church, chapel or other registered religious building. If marrying in an Anglican church a couple do not usually have to give notice to the register office. To engage in a Jewish or Quaker marriage the couple do have to give the register office 28 days’ notice. Officials performing Jewish or Quaker marriages will register the marriage as well which ensures it is legally recognised.

This then leaves all other Non-Anglican Christian marriages and all other religious marriages. To ensure their marriage is legally recognised these couples have to also give the register office 28 days’ notice of the marriage and the marriage has to take place in a registered place of worship. Any faith should therefore be able to arrange a legally recognised marriage.

One would not blame couples marrying in places of worship to presume that the venue is registered. This is however not necessarily the case. Many temples and Mosques are not registered to undertake civil marriage ceremonies. In fact only 1 in 10 Mosques in Britain are registered to conduct civil marriage ceremonies.

There are unfortunately no reliable statistics confirming how many couples in Britain have only engaged in a religious marriage. A recent survey of 1000 Muslim women across Britain by Channel 4 has revealed that almost two thirds of Muslim couples married according to Islamic rules are not in legally recognised marriages.

Many couples do not think about the issues of the legality of their marriage at the time of their marriage (“Nikaah”).

None of us enter into marriage with the view that it will ever break down. However, the problem is that if or when these marriages do break down the couples are treated under the law as cohabiting couples. They therefore do not have access to the legal recourse available to married couples upon divorce in relation to the matrimonial finances. Cohabitees unfortunately have far fewer rights than those who are married and in the UK there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’.

78% of those surveyed by Channel 4 confirmed that they wanted the Nikaah to be legally recognised in England & Wales. In some European countries, such as France, a civil certificate of marriage needs to be provided before a religious ceremony can take place. In Scotland and Northern Ireland the marriage laws have already been updated. The requirements are for an authorised celebrant to perform the marriage. The marriage is therefore legally recognised regardless of where it takes place. Imams are considered authorised celebrants.

The Marriage Act now needs to be updated to ensure that when people engage in a religious marriage they also engage in a marriage that is legally recognised in England & Wales. Baroness Cox supports this position and her Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill is currently being considered in parliament.

If you have any queries about Religious Marriages or on any other family law matters please contact Sophia Raja by phone on 01483 215037 or email her at Sophia.raja@morrlaw.com. Alternatively contact another member of our family team by clicking here