Hoping for a dream wedding in England, Scotland or Wales? In 2018, the rush to Brexit and the great immigration debate has made it a harder and more lengthy process than ever. Here's what you need to know.
If your idea of a dream wedding involves a romantic ceremony in an English castle, posing for your wedding photos against some ruined battlements in Scotland or Wales, or processing down a country lane to a picturesque English village church you'll need to plan well ahead - especially if you are visiting from overseas.
The Home Office, that part of the UK government that deals with all immigration matters, has toughened up the rules and extended the waiting periods in an effort to crack down on sham marriages.
Don't worry though, if you are legally free to marry, at least 16 years old (with parental permission if under 18 in England and Wales) and in a genuine relationship, you can get married in England, Scotland or Wales. You just may have to wait a little longer and, if one or both of you are non-UK citizens you'll have to pay attention to some special rules and regulations.
Marriage Rules for Related to EU Status
As of February 2018, the rules that apply to EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU have not changed. But once Brexit happens, now scheduled for the end of this year, that could change.
The Immigration Rules That Now Effect Marriages
All marriages and civil partnerships that involve a UK national are now subject to longer waiting periods before the wedding or civil partnership can take place. In addition, other requirements could add up to a waiting and residency period of between 36 and 77 days.
In March 2015, the required waiting period after filing notice of your intention to marry - for all couples, including UK and EU citizens regardless of nationality - was extended from 15 days to 28 days. The change is effective throughout the UK, including England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In addition, marriages and civil partnerships with one or both parties being non-EU citizens will be referred to the Home Office for investigation and they have the option of extending the investigation period up to 70 days if there is cause for suspicion.
It may seen harsh to treat couples planning such happy and romantic events like criminal suspects and to subject them to investigations and potential delays. But the fact is UK authorities see sham marriages as a way of abusing the UK immigration system and they are on the increase. In the three months following the change in regulations requiring registrars to report suspected marriage applications to the Home Office, arrests increased by 60 per cent. And in 2013/2014, authorities intervened in more than 1,300 sham marriages - more than twice the number of the previous year.
What it means for you
Not much has changed except for the time periods involved and the possibility of investigations. If you think your wedding plans and your immigration status are completely uncomplicated you just need to plan for the extra time for investigations when you book your wedding venue.
One way around this is to apply for a Marriage Visitor Visa before you enter the UK. If you're not planning to settle in the UK, this may be the easiest thing to do as once you obtain one, you are not subject to further investigation by the Home Office. All the investigation is done before you enter the UK as part of the visa application process.
You can apply online but you must appear in person at a visa application center so that you can be photographed and fingerprinted for the biometric data on your visa.
What if You Are Already in the UK?
Well that depends. As with anything that involves government agencies, the rules and regulations are complicated and clear answers are not easy to get. According to a spokesman for the Home Office, "A non-EEA (Ed. Note: EEA = European Economic Area, or EU plus Switzerland to you and me) national who is in the UK as a student or as a visitor will be referred to the Home Office when they give notice and may be subject to a 70-day notice period." In other words, if you are already in the UK and you have not entered with a Marriage Visitor Visa, your application may be subject to investigation and the waiting period could be extended from the minimum of 28 days to 70 days.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
If you plan your wedding or civil partnership in England or Wales you must allow for 7 days in a registration district before filing notice of your intention to marry (what used to be called "posting the banns"). That's in addition to the 28 to 70 day waiting period after you file notice, as described above. If you are not UK citizens, you may both need to be present for this.
If you are thinking of entering a civil partnership, you should be aware that this option is only available to same sex couples. Same sex couples who want a traditional marriage can organize one in England, Scotland and Wales, but not in Northern Ireland (where only civil partnerships are available)/
These rules, along with the required documentation, visa rules and fees for getting married in England and Wales can be found under Marriages and Civil Partnerships on the UK Government Website.
Different Rules in Scotland
The rules for getting married in Scotland are slightly different. For one thing, there is no residency requirement. You do need to file notice of your intention to marry, and the waiting period that follows is the same as in England and Wales, but you don't have to be present at the registrar's office to do it. And, in Scotland, couples who are 16 years old can be married without parental consent - making eloping young lovers a romantic - if increasingly rare - option. Find the rules and requirements for getting married in Scotland at the General Register Office for Scotland website.
There are some last issues to keep in mind. If citizens of your country are subject to immigration controls, you will have to satisfy the conditions that apply to you before getting a marriage visa. And, if you are entitled to UK citizenship - under certain conditions,children born and raised in former British colonies for example - you may need to become a UK citizen or apply for dual nationality before you can get married in the UK,
If it all seems very complicated and confusing, unfortunately, for some people, it can be. Unless your requirements are completely straightforward and you are entering the UK just for a ceremony or ritual and will leave afterwards, finding out what to do can be difficult. Take some times to familiarize yourself with the UK websites listed in this article and, if required, consult an expert on immigration law.