New rules on registering marriages

10th May 2021

The Marriage Registration Regulations 2021 have come into force this week, with the aim of modernising the marriage registration process. The changes have been made in consultation with various stakeholders, such as the Church of England, and are the most significant changes to the marriage registration system since 1837.

Marriages in England and Wales were previously registered by signing a register book held at registry offices, churches, chapels, and other religious premises. Now, on the day of the marriage ceremony, the couple and their witnesses will sign a unique ‘schedule’ containing the information to be entered into the marriage register maintained by the Registrar General. Married couples will no longer receive a handwritten marriage certificate on the day of the ceremony. The certificate will be posted to the couple within five working days.

The new system aims to make the registration process more efficient by replacing the estimated 84,000 marriage register books with a single electronic register. Importantly, the Home Office hopes the electronic marriage register will help to support the backlog of marriages which has built up during the pandemic. It will also be more secure, as it eliminates the need for data to be extracted from the original hard copies.

As well as simplifying the system, the changes will also correct a historic anomaly. Marriage certificates will now include the names of both parents of the bride and groom, instead of only their fathers.

This welcome change brings the marriage registration system in line with the system already used for registering civil partnerships; it will also align the process in England and Wales with the rest of the UK.