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Plan your marriage or civil partnership

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If you are planning a marriage or civil partnership, here are the basic steps you will need to consider, in order.

You can serve notice before booking a ceremony, but you must be certain about your venue.

Marriage or civil partnership - the differences

Opposite sex or same sex couples can choose to have a marriage or a civil partnership.

A marriage is a verbal contract. You will repeat legal declarations and legal vows at the venue you served notice for. The declarations and vows must be repeated in front of two registrars or an authorised person from a church, as well as two witnesses. You would be known as husband or wife after the ceremony.

A civil partnership is a written contract. You will sign a civil partnership document at the venue you served notice for. The document must be signed in front of a registrar and two witnesses. A civil partnership does not legally involve a ceremony, but your registrar will be happy to conduct a non-legal ceremony if you want one. You would be known as civil partners after the document is signed.

Couples of marriages and civil partnerships in the UK are treated equally in a wide range of legal matters.

Marriages tend to be recognised internationally. Civil partnerships are recognised in many countries, but if you are travelling abroad you should seek advice about what rights you might have under the law of another country.

Civil or religious marriage - the differences

If you are planning a marriage, you will be choosing a civil or religious marriage. A civil ceremony can take place in any premises licensed for civil marriages. A religious ceremony can take place in any premises registered for worship and for marriage. However, it must be the usual place of worship for at least one of you, or you must live within the district where the church is licensed.

If you plan to have a religious ceremony, you must check that the church is licensed for marriages and that they have an authorised person to legally form the marriage. If the church does not have an authorised person you must book a registrar to attend the ceremony and make it legally binding. Same-sex couples can marry in a religious building if it is registered for same-sex marriages.

If you choose to have a civil marriage, there must not be any religious content in the ceremony. This includes any readings and songs. You can choose to have a religious blessing after the registrars have left.

During the marriage ceremony

On the day of the marriage ceremony, a registrar or authorised person will speak to both participants separately for a pre-ceremony interview. This is to check that the information to be recorded on the marriage document is correct.

You do not need to bring any identification on the day. However, if you have changed your name between giving notice and your ceremony day, you will need to provide a change of name document or other evidence to prove the use of that name.

During the wedding ceremony your registrar will guide and prompt you through the whole ceremony. When you say the legal declarations and legal vows you will repeat a few words at time after them, so you do not have to remember anything. In addition to the legal words, you are welcome to say your own personal words.

Ring exchanges are not a mandatory part of the legal ceremony - it is optional and symbolic. Your registrar will include the ring exchange in the ceremony if you choose to exchange rings.

After the ceremony you will both check the details recorded on the marriage document and sign to confirm that the information is correct. Your two witnesses and registrars will also sign the marriage document.

Your witnesses can be related to you, or they can be friends. They must be able to speak and understand English. There is no lower age limit for witnesses, but they must be old enough to understand what is taking place.

Certificates and name changes

The marriage schedule is used to record the marriage on the electronic register - paper registers are no longer used. If a fee has been paid for a civil marriage, or for a registrar to attend a religious marriage, it will have included the cost of one certificate. This will be sent in the post after the ceremony. Please allow 10 days for this to arrive. Additional certificates can be ordered from the BCP website if the marriage was formed here.

If you recently married at a Church of England or a church of any other denomination where a registrar was not present, you have not paid for a marriage certificate. You must return your marriage document to us and we will use this to register your marriage once it has been received. You can then order certificates on the BCP website. They are £11 each.

You have to contract your marriage or civil partnership in the names that you are known by on the day of the ceremony. Names do not automatically change when the ceremony has taken place. Your certificate will always show the names you were known by on the day. If you want to change your name after the ceremony you can usually use your certificate as evidence of this when contacting various authorities, like your bank and the Passport Office. There is no requirement to change your names if you do not wish to.

There is no such thing as an "original" certificate. All certificates are certified copies of the marriage or civil partnership record in the Register. All certificates of your marriage or civil partnership record are equally valid.

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