Q and A on Church Weddings

The Church of England gives all British citizens the right to be married at their local parish church. There is no obligation to have attended church regularly, or for both parties to have been baptised. You should arrange to meet your parish minister as they will be pleased to advise you of their procedures. But here are some quick answers to some basic questions that come up when considering a church wedding.

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Where can I get married?

Historically, either the bride or the groom had to permanently live in the parish they plan to get married in. Now, you can marry in any church you have a strong connection to. Examples include where you were christened, grew up or where your parents were married. 

When can I get married?

Church weddings must take place between 8am and 6pm, on any day of the week by mutual agreement. Although, ministers are less likely to be able to marry you on a Sunday. Also, marriage during Lent is usually discouraged as it is a time of preparation for Easter, rather than celebration.

What are the legal requirements for a church wedding?

You can have a church wedding from the age of 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If you’re aged 16 or 17, you will need your parents’ approval in England and Wales, but not in Scotland where it’s legal without consent providing there are two witnesses.

Previously divorced?

If either of you have been divorced, you should tell the minister at the outset. They can decide whether they will marry you in their church during the lifetime of your former partner. Your minister may propose an alternative blessing ceremony after having a civil wedding.

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What is the publication of banns?

As with a civil wedding, your intention to marry needs to be announced formally. The usual method is the "publication of banns". These must be read in the parish church where each of the couple lives. So, if the couple chooses to marry at the bride's parish church, the banns must also be read in the parish church where the groom resides. Banns are read during a church service on three Sundays no more than three months before the wedding. If the wedding is postponed past the three month period, the banns will need to be read again.

If you’re marrying in a hurry it is possible to skip having your banns read, but you will need to apply for a common licence for this. They cost from £200. You may also need a licence if one of you isn’t a British citizen or currently lives outside of the UK. 

Do the rules differ depending on where in the UK the church is?

Scotland has different rules relating to church weddings that England and Wales as you’re required to give 15 days’ notice with the local registrar. Also, there are stricter residency requirements for those planning a church wedding in Northern Ireland.

How do Catholic ceremonies differ?

Of course, Catholic ceremonies have a very different approach to a Church of England wedding. But there are also several practical differences when preparing a Catholic wedding. Roman Catholic priests are not always licensed to perform legal marriage ceremonies, so a registrar may need to be present. Or you may wish to have a civil ceremony before a Catholic blessing. Catholics also believe that a marriage lasts forever and they do not recognise divorce. In their eyes your fiancee is still married, therefore they cannot marry him to you. A Catholic church ceremony is different to book too – for example, you will need a dispensation to marry in a Catholic ceremony if one of you is not Catholic, but you don’t have to have the banns read out beforehand.

For more information on marrying in a church, visit our dedicated section on Churches and Religion.

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