LivingTravelGetting married in Northern Ireland

Getting married in Northern Ireland

Do you want to get married in Northern Ireland? UK law states that a man and a woman can marry if a. both are 16 or older (parental consent is required for 16 or 17 year olds) and b. free to marry (single, widowed or divorced / dissolved civil partner).

Same-sex couples can only register one civil partnership, with many rights identical to married couples. There are limitations for transgender people and certain relatives. Also, forced marriages and bigamy or polygamy are illegal.

Regarding residency requirements: couples do not need to have resided in Northern Ireland before getting married, as long as they request a notice from the General Registrar Office (see below). However, if any of the partners visit Northern Ireland to marry as a citizen of a country that is not a member of the European Economic Area, special documentation may be required.

Give notice

Both partners have to give “notice of marriage” at their local Registrar’s Office, regardless of whether or not they wish to marry in that district. Non-resident couples must submit completed marriage notification forms and all documents to the Marriage Registrar in the district where the marriage will take place. The normal time to give notice is eight weeks. And: notice can be given by mail.

The registrar will issue authority for the marriage and the marriage can take place at any Registry Office in Northern Ireland. If one or both partners are foreigners, special rules may apply, so contact the registry office as soon as possible. In Northern Ireland, the marriage license is known as the ‘marriage calendar’.

By the way, in the period between the notice of intention to marry and the royal ceremony, anyone “with strong reasons to object to the marriage” can do so. An objection can declare the marriage calendar suspended until further investigation or even void.

The marriage must take place within twelve months from the date of entry of the notification; otherwise, the whole process must be repeated.

Necessary documentation

Both partners must provide certain information at the time of giving notice of the intention to marry. Information generally required includes:

  • Evidence of name and address;
  • evidence of date of birth;
  • evidence that a previous marriage or civil partnership has legally ended;
  • evidence of nationality.

A current passport will take care of most of the points.

Where can a marriage take place in Northern Ireland?

A wedding ceremony can be legally held in these locations:

  • The registry office;
  • a church of the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian or Roman Catholic Church;
  • a synagogue or any other private place if both (!) partners are Jewish;
  • a Meeting House if one or both partners are part of the Society of Friends (the Quakers);
  • in addition to private homes, hospitals or even prisons, but only in special circumstances.

Currently only local authorities in England and Wales can approve premises other than Registry Offices for civil marriages, this may change in the future.

A Brief Guide to Church Marriages

Major churches can issue their own licenses, special licenses, or licenses after reading the so-called bans; This generally applies to the Church of Ireland, the Roman Catholic Church, the Presbyterian Church (but not the Free Presbyterian Church), Baptists, Congregationalists, and Methodists.

Other denominations will need a civil license first.

As this is a very complicated field, talk to your local priest, rabbi, imam, elder, high priestess… whoever is in charge will know what to do.

A short guide to civil marriage ceremonies

A marriage ceremony at the registry office will take about a quarter of an hour. The registrar will describe marriage as a legal concept and will remain strictly non-religious. The ceremony may (if the couple wishes and has clarified this in advance with the registrar) include readings, songs, or music. These have to remain in an “essentially non-religious context.”

The partners will then be asked to repeat the standard set of promises; these cannot be changed. You may want to add promises, again excluding any religious references or concepts. A bit of relief for the always forgetful groom: rings are not required (but they are usually exchanged).

The legalities of the royal marriage ceremony

Whether a couple is married in a civil or religious ceremony, those legal requirements must always be met: the marriage must be performed by a person (or at least in the presence of) legally authorized to register marriages in the district; the marriage must be registered in the local marriage registry and also signed by both parties, two witnesses (over 16 years, bring yours as registry office staff cannot legally fulfill this function), the person who performed the ceremony (plus a person authorized to register marriages, if not the same).

Blessing ceremonies

If couples are not allowed to marry in a religious ceremony, there may still be the possibility of arranging for the relationship to be “blessed” in a religious ceremony. This, however, is entirely up to any religious official involved: contact them directly or through your local church official.

Is more information needed?

The website for the Citizens’ Counseling Office on Marriage provides the full breakdown.

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