Why is this important?
This information applies to Scotland
Table of contents
- Who can get married
- Getting engaged
- How to marry
- Marrying in Scotland if you are not living in Scotland
- Marrying outside Scotland
- Marriage by proxy
- Polygamous marriages
- Marriages which are not recognised as valid
- Irregular marriages
- Proof of irregular marriage
- Proof of irregular marriage for social security purposes
- Forced marriages
- Registrar General
Who can get married
Opposite sex couples and same sex couples can get married in Scotland if you are both aged 16 years or over.
You cannot marry in Scotland if you are:-
- already married or in a civil partnership (except if you are converting your civil partnership to a same sex marriage). You and your partner must both be single, widowed, divorced or have dissolved a previous civil partnership
- under 16 years old
- close relatives - see under heading Relatives who may not marry
- incapable of understanding the nature of a marriage ceremony and of consenting to marriage.
A transgender 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 transgender person has legal recognition that s/he has a different gender identity to the one s/he was given at birth.
Prior to 16 December 2014, a married person who wanted to legally change their gender would have to end their marriage because it wasn't legal to be married in Scotland to someone of the same gender. With the introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland from 16 December 2014, a married person is now able to change their gender without having to end their marriage.
The spouse of a transgendered person has the right to a divorce at any point.
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
It is against the law in Scotland to marry the following blood relatives:-
- aunt or uncle
- niece or nephew
- great grandparent
- great grandchild.
It is also against the law in Scotland to marry the following relatives by affinity:-
- child of a former spouse or civil partner
- grandchild of a former spouse or civil partner
- former spouse or civil partner of a parent
- former spouse or civil partner of a grandparent
- adoptive parent or former adoptive parent
- adoptive child or former adoptive child.
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.
Engagements are mainly for cultural reasons and have limited legal 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.
How to marry
An opposite sex couple can marry by:-
A same sex couple can marry by:-
- a civil ceremony; or
- a religious or belief ceremony (if the religious or belief body has agreed to carry out same sex marriages); or
- converting their existing civil partnership to marriage.
Converting a civil partnership to marriage
With the introduction of same sex marriage in Scotland, it is possible for a couple to convert a qualifying civil partnership to marriage. This can be done through a simple administrative process or by having a full marriage ceremony.
A civil partnership will qualify for conversion to a marriage if it was registered in Scotland and hasn't been dissolved, annulled or ended by death. A civil partnership that was registered at a British consulate overseas or by British armed forces personnel may also qualify for conversion if you elected Scotland as the relevant part of the UK when you entered into the civil partnership and its details were sent to the Registrar General of Scotland.
If you want to convert your civil partnership to marriage through the administrative process, you will need to make an appointment with your local registry office and take along a copy of your civil partnership certificate and photo ID. You will be required to complete an application form. The district registrar will witness your signing of the form. The information will then be entered into the marriage register. If your civil partnership was registered before 16 December 2014, the administrative conversion process will be free until 16 December 2015. There will be a charge of £10 if you want a copy of the marriage certificate.
If you want to convert your civil partnership to marriage by having a full marriage ceremony, you will have to give the usual notice and pay the fees associated with registering a marriage (see Marriage notices)
When you convert a civil partnership to marriage, the civil partnership will end on the conversion. You will be treated as having been married to each other since the date your civil partnership was registered.
The application form and guidance on changing a civil partnership into a marriage can be found on the National Records of Scotland website at: www.nrscotland.gov.uk.
Legal requirements of a marriage ceremony
Whether a marriage is to be by a civil or a religious/belief ceremony, 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 Marriage notices).
The steps involved in organising a marriage ceremony. are as follows:-
|Stage||More about this stage|
|1 - Finding your venue|
A religious or belief ceremony can be held anywhere agreed by the couple and the 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/belief or civil marriage.
The notices must be given to the district registrar no earlier than 3 months and no later than 28 days before the date of the marriage.
|3 - Marriage Notice Book|
The registrar must make details of your intention to marry available to the public for 28 days before you can get married.
After 28 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 or belief 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 or belief 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 or belief ceremony includes religious beliefs and other belief systems such as humanism. A religious or belief 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.
You can obtain a list of approved celebrants in your area from the district registrar.
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 How to marry.
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 or belief 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.
The first legal step to getting married (except if you are converting a civil partnership to a marriage through the administrative process) 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/belief or civil marriage.
The marriage notice form and guidance is available on the National Records of Scotland website at www.nrscotland.gov.uk
Money and certificates
Each marriage notice should be accompanied by a:-
- birth certificate
- a civil partnership certificate - if converting a civil partnership to marriage by a marriage ceremony
- 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 28 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 married. 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 Registry office must give notice in person or by post at a Registry Office. Everyone wishing to marry in a Registy 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 28 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 28 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 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
Opposite sex and same sex 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 place – 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. You and your partner must say the statutory vows. You may wish to personalise your marriage ceremony by including readings, poetry, music or your own personal vows, in addition to 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.
Religious or belief marriage ceremonies
Opposite sex couples can marry in a religious or belief ceremony, conducted by someone who is an approved celebrant. That celebrant may be from a religion such as Christianity or Hinduism or from another belief system such as Humanism.
Same sex couples can have a religious or belief marriage ceremony if the religious or belief body has agreed to conduct same sex marriages and is authorised to do so. There is no legal obligation or duty on a religious or belief body to conduct same sex marriages. It is not unlawful discrimination for an individual celebrant or a religious or belief body to refuse to conduct a same sex marriage.
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 or belief celebrant if they are affiliated to a religious or belief 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 or belief affiliation. There is more information about applying for temporary authorisation on the National Records of Scotland website at www.nrscotland.gov.uk.
Religious or belief marriages can be conducted anywhere by the religious or belief body concerned; they are not restricted to religious buildings.
For a religious or belief ceremony:-
- you or your partner must collect the Mariage schedule in person from the district registrar and give it to the celebrant before the cermony
- there must be two witnesses aged 16 years or over
- the ceremony must follow the form recognised by the religious or belief 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.
A marriage ceremony can be conducted by approved celebrants from the humanist belief system. The Humanist Society represents its members, who do not believe in any religion but believe in taking responsiblity for their actions and base their ethics on the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfilment.
Several Humanist celebrants have been authorised by the Registrar General for Scotland to carry out marriages in the same way as approved religious celebrants.
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 or belief 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.
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, have 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you marry or enter a civil partnership in the UK when you are already legally married or in a civil partnership, the marriage is bigamous and will be void. Bigamy is a statutory offence, punishable by imprisonment, a fine or both.
There are no legal restrictions to prevent people remarrying. Anyone who is divorced or whose spouse has died, can marry again in a civil ceremony.
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.
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.
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.
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 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) 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 DWP 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.
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.
The address of the Registrar General is:-
National Records of Scotland
HM General Register House
2 Princes Street
Tel: 0131 535 1314
Email: via contact form on website
Staff at the National Records of Scotland can give addresses of district registrars and provide further information about all aspects of getting married. A Directory of Registrars in Scotland is available on the National Records of Scotland website at www.nrscotland.gov.uk.
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.