Getting Married in Northern Ireland

Information on the Legal Requirements for a Northern Irish Wedding

••• Northern Ireland, Fermanagh, Enniskillen. John Warburton-Lee/Getty Images

An Irish marriage? Why not considering a wedding in Northern Ireland then? Many people might shy away from that idea because of unspecified security concerns. But, to be honest, there is nothing to be concerned about. And price-wise "the North" can often be surprisingly less demanding than the counterparts in the Republic.

So let us have a closer look at the legal framework for getting hitched in Northern Ireland (another article will give you details on weddings in the Republic of Ireland):

Who Can Get Married in Northern Ireland?

The law of the United Kingdom decrees that a man and a woman may marry if a. they are both 16 years or over (parental consent is needed for those aged 16 or 17) and b. free to marry (single, widowed or divorced/dissolved civil partnership).

Same-sex couples can only register a civil partnership - with many rights identical to married couples. There are limitations for transsexuals (whose sex is defined by their birth certificate, not their current status) and certain relatives. In addition, forced marriages and bigamy or polygamy are illegal.

As to residency requirements: Couples do not need to have been resident in Northern Ireland before getting married, as long as they apply for notice from the General Register Office (see below). If either partner is, however, visiting Northern Ireland to be married as a citizen of a country that is not a member of the European Economic Area, special documentation may be required.

Giving Notice

Both partners have to give "notice of marriage" in their local Register Office, whether or not they wish to marry in that district. Non-resident couples must submit completed marriage notice forms and all documents to the Registrar of Marriages in the district where the marriage is to take place.

The normal time frame for giving notice is eight weeks. And: notice can be given by post.

The registrar will issue authority for the marriage and marriage may take place in any Register Office in Northern Ireland. If one or both partners are from overseas, special rules may apply - so contact the register office early. In Northern Ireland, the marriage licence is known as "marriage schedule".

By the way - in the period between the notice of intention to marry and the actual ceremony, anyone "with strong grounds for objecting to the marriage" can do so. An objection can declare the marriage schedule suspended until further investigation or even void. Then again this might happen less often to visiting couples ...

Marriage must take place within twelve months from the date of entry of the notice - otherwise the whole process must be repeated.

Documentation Needed

Both partners have to supply certain information at the moment of giving notice of intention to marry. Information generally required includes:

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

A current passport will take care of most points.

Where Can a Marriage Take Place in Northern Ireland?

A wedding ceremony may be legally held at these places:

  • The Register Office;
  • a church of the Church of Ireland, 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);
  • plus private homes, hospitals or even prisons, but only under special circumstances.

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

A Short Guide to Church Marriages

The main churches can issue their own licenses, special licenses or licenses after reading 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 highly 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 in the register office will take around a quarter of an hour. The registrar will outline marriage as a legal concept and stay strictly non-religious. The ceremony may (if the couple wishes and has cleared this in advance with the registrar) include readings, songs or music. These have to stay in an "essentially non-religious context".

The partners will then be asked each to repeat the standard set of promises - these may not be changed. You might wish to add promises, again excluding any religious references or concepts. Some relief for the ever-forgetful groom: rings are not required (but are usually exchanged).

The Legalities of the Actual Marriage Ceremony

Whether a couple is married by a civil or religious ceremony, those legal requirements must always be met: The marriage has to be conducted by a person (or at least in the presence of) legally authorised to register marriages in the district; the marriage needs to be entered in the local marriage register and also signed by both parties, two witnesses (over 16 - bring your own as register office staff cannot legally fulfil this function), the person who conducted the ceremony (plus a person authorised to register marriages, if not the same).

Blessing Ceremonies

Should couples not be allowed to marry in a religious ceremony, there still may be a possibility to arrange for the relationship to be "blessed" in a religious ceremony. This, however, is entirely the decision of any religious officials concerned - contact them directly or through your local church official.

More Information Needed?

The Citizens Advice Bureau's website on marriage gives the full run-down.