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Getting married

This information applies to Scotland

Who can get married

You can get married if you and your partner are of the opposite sex, you are both aged 16 years or over and are either single, widowed, divorced or have dissolved a civil partnership.

You cannot marry in Scotland if you are:-

  • already married or in a civil partnership. You and your partner must both be single, widowed, divorced or have dissolved a previous civil partnership
  • under 16 years old
  • of the same sex, but a same-sex couple can register their relationship, see Registering a civil partnership. See under heading Transsexual people for information about transsexual people and marriage
  • close relatives - see under heading Relatives who may not marry
  • incapable of understanding the nature of a marriage ceremony and of consenting to marriage.

Transsexual people

Under UK law, people can only marry someone of the opposite sex. A transsexual person is considered to be of the sex s/he was given at birth unless s/he has a gender recognition certificate (GRC). A GRC shows that the transsexual person has legal recognition that s/he has a different gender identity to the one s/he was given at birth. This means that s/he can live in her/his acquired gender and marry someone of the opposite gender. For example, a male to female transsexual person who has a full GRC is seen in the eyes of the law as a woman and so can marry a man. Without a GRC, she remains in law a man and can only marry a woman.

Young people

In Scotland, if you are aged between 16 and 18 you do not have to have parental consent to get married. In England and Wales if you are under 18 you must have parental consent to get married. However, if you are 16 or 17 years old and you are from England and Wales you can come to Scotland to get married (see Residence requirements under heading How to marry) without the consent of your parents.

Relatives who may not marry

The following people cannot marry in any circumstances, because of their blood relationship.

If you are a man you cannot marry your:-If you are a woman you cannot marry your:-
motherfather
daughterson
grandmothergrandfather
granddaughtergrandson
sisterbrother
auntuncle
niecenephew
great grandmothergreat grandfather
great granddaughtergreat grandson

If you are an adopted child you may not marry your adoptive parents but you are allowed to marry someone in the rest of your adoptive family including your adoptive brother or sister. Incest laws vary from one country to another and it is possible that a couple living in Scotland may be guilty of incest in this country but not their own. If you are already validly married and living in Scotland it is unlikely you would be prosecuted. However, if you are living together you would not be allowed to marry in Scotland and might also be liable for prosecution.

People who are in-laws can marry only in certain circumstances. For information on when in-laws can marry, you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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Getting engaged

Engagements are mainly for cultural reasons and have limited status. However, they can sometimes be used, for example, in immigration law as evidence of intention to marry.

If you or your partner decide to end an engagement, the agreement to marry cannot be legally enforced. In these circumstances, it is not legally clear what should happen about engagement rings. The ring should be returned if the giver made clear that in the event of a broken engagement it should be returned. Gifts should be returned if they were given on condition of marriage. This, however, cannot be legally enforced.

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How to marry

You can get married by a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony. A religious ceremony can be conducted by an approved celebrant from a church or religious body or by an approved celebrant from other belief systems such as Humanism. In all cases, the following legal requirements must be met:-

  • both you and your partner must complete a marriage notice (see below)
  • the marriage must be conducted by either a registrar or an approved celebrant; in the presence of two witnesses aged 16 or over
  • at the end of the ceremony, you and your partner, the two witnesses and the person who conducted the ceremony must all sign the Marriage Schedule (see heading Marriage notices).
StageMore about this stage
1 - Finding your venue

A religious ceremony can be held anywhere as long as you find an approved celebrant.

A civil marriage can take place in a registrar’s office or any other appropriate place (other than religious premises) agreed by the couple and the local registration authority.

2 - Marriage Notices

You and your partner will each need to give notice to the district registrar for the area where you intend to marry. This applies to a religious or civil marriage.

The notices must be given to the district registrar no earlier than 3 months and no later than 15 days before the date of the marriage. It is advisable to allow 4-6 weeks for the registrar to make checks.

3 - Marriage Notice Book

The registrar must make details of your intention to marry available to the public for 14 days before you can get married.

After 14 days, you will be free to marry within 3 months from the date that the notices were received by the registrar.

4 - Getting the Marriage Schedule

In a civil ceremony the district registrar will keep the schedule until marriage. In a religious ceremony, either you or your partner must collect it in person from the registrar’s office because it acts as a licence for the celebrant to marry you.

The marriage schedule is issued no earlier than 7 days before the date of the marriage.

5 - Your wedding day

Civil marriages are conducted by district registrars appointed by the Registrar General. Religious ceremonies must be conducted by someone who is an approved celebrant.

The marriage must be performed in front of the registrar or celebrant and two witnesses.

Finding a venue

A civil marriage ceremony can take place in a registrar's office or in any other appropriate location (other than religious premises) that has been agreed by the couple and the registration authority, for example, a stately home, on a boat in Scottish waters, on a hillside.

A religious ceremony includes religious beliefs and other belief systems such as humanism. A religious ceremony can be held anywhere (for example on a boat or hillside) as long as the couple can find an approved celebrant. This is someone who is authorised to perform marriages.

Both religious and civil marriages must take place at the time and place specified on the Marriage Schedule. If the place of marriage is changed, the district registrar must be informed and may make changes to the Marriage Schedule - see Changes to the Marriage Schedule under heading How to marry.

Residence requirements

There are no residence requirements for someone wishing to marry in Scotland, therefore citizens of any country can marry in any district they choose, provided there is no legal impediment to the marriage (that is, it must not break the law).

District registrars must be notified and sent the relevant forms and documents. The marriage notice that must be completed by you and your partner can be sent abroad and returned by post. You do not need to be resident in Scotland during the waiting period between the giving of notice and the date on which the marriage can take place. However, if you are having a religious ceremony, it is necessary for either you or your partner to collect the Marriage Schedule in person before the ceremony. Addresses of district registrars can be obtained from any district registrar or the Registrar General.

Marriage notices

The first step to getting married is to give notice to the district registrar in the area where you intend to marry. Each person has to complete a marriage notice on a form provided by the registrar. This applies to a religious or civil marriage. You are advised to submit your marriage notice 4 - 6 weeks before you intend to marry. If you wish to get married in a church, you should check to see what is customary.

Money and certificates

Each marriage notice should be accompanied by a:-

  • fee
  • birth certificate
  • divorce certificate if either you or your partner was previously married
  • death certificate if a previous partner has died
  • certificate that you are free to marry under the law of your own country if not normally domiciled in the UK.

The district registrar may require evidence of the nationality of the couple intending to marry.

If any of these documents is in a foreign language, it must be accompanied by a certified English translation.

Problems with the certificates required

If you cannot provide any of these documents, the registrar may accept other documentary evidence. If the name on your birth certificate differs from the name you normally use, you should complete the marriage notice form in the name that you are using now. The registrar will decide whether both your names need to be recorded.

What happens next

The registrar enters the names of you and your partner and the proposed marriage date into the Marriage Notice Book and on to a list of intended marriages. This is displayed either inside or outside the office. For the next 14 days anyone can inspect this list and if someone suspects that there is an impediment to the marriage, s/he can inspect the Marriage Notice Book free of charge. An objection can be announced anytime before you and your partner are pronounced man and wife. It should be submitted in writing to the district registrar and will be considered by the Registrar General. If the objection is, for example, a simple inaccuracy in the marriage notice, you will be notified and changes made. If the objection concerns the law being broken, the marriage process will be stopped while a full investigation takes place.

Special immigration rules

If you are travelling to the UK to marry either a British citizen or an EEA national, you will need a visa. This is called entry clearance. This will be either a fiancé(e) or proposed civil partner visa if you are not an EEA national or an EEA Family Permit if you are an EEA national.

People who are subject to immigration control and wish to marry in Scotland in a Register office must give notice in person or by post at a Register Office. Everyone wishing to marry in a Register Office may be asked to provide proof of their nationality.

You are subject to immigration control if you are not:

  • a British citizen (or someone with right of abode in the UK), or
  • an EEA national, or
  • someone who doesn't have any conditions attached to your stay in the UK because you are for example, a diplomat, or a member of visiting armed forces.

For more information on coming to the UK to marry, go to the GOV.UK website at www.gov.uk.

If the registrar believes that you are entering or have entered a marriage for immigration purposes, s/he has a duty to report this to UK Visas and Immigration. The Registrar must provide information including your marital status and your nationality.

If someone wishing to marry in Scotland is subject to immigration control, special rules may apply when giving notice. If so, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Getting the Marriage Schedule

After 14 days but no earlier than 7 days before the date of the marriage, the registrar can issue you and your partner with a Marriage Schedule. This is the initial record of the marriage. In a civil ceremony the district register will keep the schedule until the marriage. In a religious ceremony, either you or your partner must collect it in person from the registrar’s office because it acts as a licence for the celebrant to marry you.

If having to wait 14 days for the Marriage Schedule would cause serious inconvenience to you and your partner, you can write to the district registrar giving a good reason as to why you should be married earlier. The final decision is with the Registrar General.

If either you or your partner lives in England or Wales, see under heading Marrying in Scotland if you are not living in Scotland.

Changes to the Marriage Schedule

If the marriage cannot take place on the date or at the place specified on the Marriage Schedule, the registrar must be informed of this. S/he will then either issue a new schedule or authorise the celebrant to make changes to the old one.

If the new date is more than three months after the date originally specified, the Registrar General will either direct the registrar to issue a new schedule or require you to submit new marriage notices and start the procedure again.

Civil marriage ceremonies

Civil marriages are conducted by district registrars, appointed by the Registrar General. The registrar will conduct the marriage in her/his district registration or any other appropriate location – see Where can a marriage take place.

You and your partner must provide two witnesses aged 16 or over who will be present at the ceremony and sign the Marriage Schedule.

The registrar will make a short statement about marriage; s/he should be asked beforehand to indicate what form of words s/he will use. It is not possible to insert religious words into a civil ceremony but you and your partner must say the statutory vows. It is not necessary to have a ring.

If either or both of you cannot speak English, you must arrange for an interpreter to be present and are responsible for paying for her/his services.

At the end of the ceremony the registrar, you, your partner, and witnesses must all sign the Marriage Schedule.

If either you or your partner is from overseas, special rules may apply when giving notice to marry. If so, you should contact an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

Religious marriage ceremonies

Religious ceremonies in Scotland must be conducted by someone who is an approved celebrant. That celebrant may be from another belief system such as Humanism.

Ministers and priests from the following religious bodies are entitled to solemnise marriages without having to register individually as an approved celebrant:-

The Church of Scotland; the Baptist Union of Scotland; the Congregational Union of Scotland; the Episcopal Church of Scotland and other churches of the Anglican Communion in Scotland; the Free Church of Scotland; the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland; the Hebrew Congregation; the Methodist Church in Scotland; the Religious Society of Friends; the Roman Catholic Church; the Salvation Army; the Scottish Unitarian Association; the United Free Church of Scotland.

Celebrants of other churches or religious bodies, for example, Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Hindu must all register and be authorised individually by the Registrar General.

You should be able to obtain a list of approved celebrants in the area where you wish to marry from any district registrar.

It is possible for people over the age of 21 to apply to the Registrar General for temporary authorisation to act as a religious celebrant if they are affiliated to a religious body and are supported by the office bearers of that body to carry out marriage cermonies on its behalf. This means for example, that you could be married by a member of your family or a friend as long as that person meets the necessary requirements about religious affiliation. There is more information about applying for temporary authorisation on the General Register Office for Scotland website at www.gro-scotland.gov.uk.

Religious marriages can be conducted anywhere by the religious body concerned; they are not restricted to religious buildings.

For a religious ceremony:-

  • there must be two witnesses aged 16 years or over
  • the ceremony must follow the form recognised by the religious body concerned
  • at the end of the ceremony, the celebrant, you and your partner and witnesses must all sign the Marriage Schedule.

If you are getting married using a religious ceremony in England or Wales there are different churches and procedures.

Humanism

A marriage ceremony can be conducted by approved celebrants from the Humanist Society. The Humanist Society represents its members, who do not believe in any religion but who still wish to live an ethical life.

Several Humanist celebrants have been authorised by the Registrar General for Scotland to carry out marriages in the same way as approved religious celebrants. This means that there is no need for you and your partner to have a separate civil ceremony, carried out by a registrar, before a ceremony conducted by an approved humanist celebrant.

You can find out more about humanist ceremonies from the website of the Humanist Society Scotland.

Registration of marriages

In the case of a religious marriage, you must ensure that the signed schedule reaches the district registrar within three days of marriage. In a civil marriage, the registrar keeps the schedule after it has been completed at the end of the ceremony. Details are registered in the Register of Marriages and sent to the Registrar General who keeps it in the National Records of Scotland. You can either pay for a copy of the marriage certificate at the ceremony or at a later date.

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Marrying in Scotland if you are not living in Scotland

If a person living in England or Wales intends to get married in Scotland to either a person resident in Scotland or a person resident in England and Wales who has a parent resident in Scotland, s/he may be able to give notice of marriage to the superintendent registrar in the district of England and Wales in which s/he resides. However, the person s/he is marrying should give notice in Scotland in the usual way.

If you or your partner live outside the United Kingdom (ie, has not been resident 2 years prior to submitting the marriage notice) you must submit with the marriage notice a certificate from your country stating that there is no known legal impediment to the marriage. If this is not possible, the Registrar General may offer an acceptable alternative. If not in English, such documents would need a certified English translation.

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Marrying outside Scotland

If you are resident in Scotland and you wish to marry elsewhere in the UK, you may need to obtain a Scottish registrar’s certificate of no impediment. This is to show that there is no obstacle that would prevent you from getting married.

If you wish to marry outside the UK, you will have to comply with the requirements of the particular country. Information on this can be obtained from an Embassy or official representative of the country in the UK.

If you want information about whether or not a marriage outside the UK will be recognised in the UK you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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Marriage by Proxy

A marriage by proxy is when either you or your partner, or both of you, are not physically present at the ceremony. It may be extremely difficult to prove that a marriage by proxy is a valid marriage (both legally and for claiming benefits). Courts have made different rulings on the validity of proxy marriages. The central question is whether or not a proxy marriage is recognised as valid in the country where it took place and in the countries where you and your partner were domiciled at the time. If you entered a proxy marriage before you were domiciled in the UK, you will need an expert opinion about whether the marriage is recognised in the country where it took place and so whether it is valid in the UK.

The concept of ‘domicile’ is very complex and does not necessarily mean living in a country. For more information you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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Polygamous marriages

A polygamous marriage is when a man or woman is entitled to marry more than one wife or husband. A polygamous marriage which takes place in the UK is not valid. Marriages in other countries where polygamy is allowed may be recognised as valid in Britain, provided that none of the spouses were domiciled in the UK at the time of the marriage.

The concept of ‘domicile’ is very complex and does not necessarily mean living in a country. For more information you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau - where to get advice.

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Marriages which are not recognised as valid

Certain marriages are treated as if they never took place. These are called void marriages. They are marriages which do not meet the requirements of United Kingdom law. An example of a void marriage is one where the partners may not marry because they are related. If you need to know whether your marriage is void you will need to seek specialist legal advice.

Some marriages may have met the requirements of United Kingdom law when they took place but may then be annulled. These are called voidable marriages. An example of where a marriage is voidable is where one of the partners did not give valid consent to the marriage because the consent was given under duress. Either partner can seek to annul the marriage but if neither partner does, the marriage will be valid. If you need to know more about voidable marriages, you will need to seek specialist advice.

Making a marriage legally valid

If you have been married in a way that isn't recognised as valid under UK law, you can get married again by a civil ceremony. This will make the marriage valid in the UK and make any children fully legitimate under the law. It will ensure that claims for national insurance benefits are met in full and that you can get tax allowances and concessions available to married couples. You should advise the registrar of the full facts regarding the previous marriage, and the registrar will be able to assist in completing the marriage notice.

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Bigamy

If you marry in the UK when you are already legally married, the marriage is bigamous and will be void.

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Remarriage / second marriage

There are no legal restrictions to prevent people remarrying. Anyone who is divorced or whose spouse has died, can marry again in a registration office.

Religions have different rules about whether you can remarry in a religious ceremony. If you have been married before and want to marry again using a religious ceremony you will need to check with an official of the relevant religion.

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Blessing ceremonies

Even if you are not allowed to marry in a religious ceremony, for example, because you are lesbian or gay or because you belong to a religion that does not permit marriage of people who are divorced, it may be possible to arrange for the relationship to be blessed in a religious ceremony. This is at the discretion of the religious official.

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Irregular marriages

The term ‘common - law’ husband or wife is often used but has no legal standing. It is a common misunderstanding that a couple will have established a 'common law marriage' after living together for a period of time. There was a type of irregular marriage called 'marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute' which could apply to couples who have lived together and were thought to be married. In practice, this was rarely used, and except for very particular circumstances was abolished by the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006. Only irregular marriages established before 4 May 2006 will be recognised.

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Proof of irregular marriage

To prove that you are married by cohabitation with habit and repute, you must bring an action of Declarator of Marriage in the Court of Session. Details of the decree are passed on to the Registrar General, who will register the marriage. You will need a solicitor.

The action for Declarator of Marriage can be brought to court by either you or your partner, your children or any person with an interest in proving that the marriage exists, for example, to prove the grounds for actions of aliment or to show inheritance rights. It is possible to bring this action after either or both parties are dead.

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Proof of irregular marriage for social security purposes

If you are claiming social security benefits which require you to be married, or to have been married (for example to claim widows’ benefits), there is a special procedure which you can use to establish that you are, or have been, married by cohabitation with habit and repute.

You should inform the Benefits Agency that you are, or have been, married by cohabitation with habit and repute when you make a claim for the benefit.

An acceptance by the Benefits Agency for social security purposes will not entitle you to claim that you are, or have been, married for any other purposes. If you need to establish that you are or have been married for any other purpose you will have to take an action for declarator of marriage, as described above.

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Forced marriages

Forcing someone to marry without their full and free consent is against the law in Scotland and an abuse of their human rights. If you are afraid that you may be forced into a marriage in this country, or that someone in this country may be planning to force you into a marriage while you are abroad, the police should be contacted. This is also the case where you are worried that someone you know is about to be forced into a marriage. Forced marriage is a criminal offence, punishable by up to 7 years in prison and/or a fine.

You can also apply to court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order, which can stop a wide range of behaviour, for example, it can forbid someone to:-

  • take you abroad for marriage
  • take your passports away
  • intimidate you with threats and violence.

It can also require someone to reveal where you are. Anyone who breaks a Forced Marriage Protection Order can be sent to prison for up to two years and receive a fine of up to £10,000.

If you are the victim of a forced marriage or if you are worried about someone who is at risk of being forced into a marriage, as well as contacting the police, you could also contact the Scottish Government's Forced Marriage Helpline, which is a free, confidential helpline available 24 hours a day and staffed by trained advisers. The Helpline number cannot be traced. The Forced Marriage Helpline is 0800 027 1234. More information about forced marriage is also available on the yourrightscotland.org website.

If you are afraid that you may be forced into marriage abroad, you should, before travelling, contact the Forced Marriages Unit for advice.

Forced Marriage Unit
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London
SW1A 2AH
Tel: 020 7008 0151
Email: fmu@fco.gov.uk
Website: www.fco.gov.uk

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Registrar General

The address of the Registrar General is:-

National Records of Scotland
New Register House
Edinburgh
EH1 3YT
Tel: 0131 334 0380
Email: via contact form on website
Website: www.gro-scotland.gov.uk

Staff at the National Records of Scotland can give addresses of district registrars and provide further information about all aspects of getting married.

Local registration offices can be found in the phone book under Registration of births, deaths and marriages and can provide addresses of other district registrars, lists of approved celebrants, marriage notices and information on all aspects of getting married.

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