The marriage of minors – what’s changed and why

27th May 2022

A new law in England and Wales received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022. It raises the minimum age for entering into a marriage or a civil partnership from 16 to 18 years old.

It’s no surprise that there’s been very little opposition in parliament to this amendment, but it mustn’t be forgotten that it has taken campaigners a long time to get to this stage.

The change in the law is to protect vulnerable young people from being forced into wedlock. Under the new law, children (those under the age of 18) can no longer get married or enter into a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent.

The new law will also apply to cultural or religious marriages that are not registered with the local council, and any marriages that are carried out outside of England and Wales involving minors.

Adults found to have ignored the changes and to have facilitated the marriage of a minor could face up to seven years in prison and a hefty fine. This is a small price to pay compared to the suffering endured by minors who are forced into marriage, but the raise in the age of consent and the offences that follow will hopefully provide some level of deterrent.

The new law surrounding the age of consent is of course a welcome change in that it prohibits child marriage.

However, the increase in the minimum age may have implications for other things such as the vesting of certain trust interests in minors – there are more considerations to be given to the changes than meet the eye.

The new law will not affect the validity of any marriages that have taken place already and will not affect the current rules around divorce. It will not apply to marriages in either Northern Ireland or Scotland.

If anyone is forced into a marriage after the age of 18, there is an absolute bar on presenting an Application for Divorce until the parties have been married for one year, as there always has been. This is despite the new ‘no fault’ divorce procedure we have advised many clients to take advantage of.

The changes to the age of consent will no doubt have a number of repercussions but will provide a long overdue additional level of protection for minors being forced into a marriage.

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