Marriage of Foreign Nationals
Superintendent Registrar's Certificate
The Church of England Marriage Measure 2008
Marriage After Divorce
Marriage of Unbaptised Persons
Frequently Asked Questions
Recommended Reading for Clergy
The principal law relating to marriage in Church of England parish churches is contained in the Marriage Act 1949. The Act provides that before a marriage can take place in a church, one of the following legal requirements must be fulfilled:
- The calling of Banns; OR
- The issue of a Common Licence by the Bishop of the Diocese; OR
- The issue of a Special Licence by the Archbishop; OR
- The issue of a Superintendent Registrar's Certificate.
Where a marriage is to take place in the parish church of the parish where one of the parties resides, the banns must be called in that church and in the parish church of the parish where the other party to the marriage resides. If the marriage is to take place in the church of a parish where neither party resides, but in a church which is the "usual place of worship" of one of the parties (i.e. one of the parties is on the church electoral roll of that church), or in a church with which one of the parties can show a qualifying connection under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008, banns must be called in that church, as well as in each of the parishes where the parties reside.
Where there is a parish with no parish church, or where there is a parish church which does not have a service every Sunday, or the parish church is temporarily closed for repairs, the parish can be treated as part of any adjoining parish, so that banns may be called in the church of any adjoining parish and the marriage solemnised there.
If a couple wish to be married in the church of a parish where neither resides or is on the church electoral roll, and where neither can claim a qualifying connection under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008, they will need to apply instead for a Special Licence. (But see the question below which deals with multi-parish benefices.)
An application for the calling of banns must be made to the minister of each parish where banns are to be called. Banns must be called on three Sundays (not necessarily consecutive Sundays) prior to the wedding and a certificate of publication must be obtained.
A marriage after the calling of banns must be solemnized within three months of the last occasion on which banns were called.
The Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure 2012 has made some important changes regarding the time of calling of banns. Banns of marriage may now be called either during the principal Sunday service only or at both the principal service and another service on the same day. If banns are called at two services on the same day, that only counts as one calling of banns. “Principal service” means the service at which, in the minister’s opinion, the greatest number of persons who habitually attend public worship are likely to attend. Thus, for example, if more people are likely to attend a sung evensong on a Sunday, rather than a morning Communion service, then the banns should be called at that evensong service only, or else at both services.
A Common Licence is a Bishop's permission for a marriage to take place in a particular church. In order to qualify for the issue of a Common Licence, either (a) one of the parties to the proposed marriage must have lived in the parish where the marriage is to take place for at least 15 days immediately preceding the date when the application for the Common Licence is made, or else must be on the church electoral roll (Marriage Act 1949) or (b) one of the parties must be able to show a qualifying connection with the church (Church of England Marriage Measure 2008).
An application for a Common Licence may be made by prior appointment at the office of the Diocesan Registrar in Peterborough. However, for those living at some distance from the Diocesan Registry, an application may be made instead to one of a number of clergy around the diocese who have been appointed Surrogates for receiving marriage licence applications.
A Common Licence is valid for only three months, and so normally an application for a licence should not be made until within three months of the proposed wedding date. However, where there are special circumstances, such as one party having been previously married (see Marriage After Divorce, below), or where one party is not a British subject, the Registrar may be contacted much earlier, in order that such issues can be considered well before the proposed wedding date.
Please see the Fees page for details of the fees payable for a Common Licence.
Marriage of Foreign Nationals
The Legal Advisory Commission recommends that, where one of the parties to a proposed marriage is a foreigner, the marriage ought to be by licence (which involves the making of a sworn statement as to status), rather than by banns. The foreign party should provide the Surrogate with:
(1) A letter from the appropriate embassy or government department, confirming that the foreign party is free to marry under the law of his or her own country.
(2) An original document (not a fax or photocopy) showing the full name and date of birth of the party, such as a passport or birth certificate.
(3) An original recent document showing the name of the party and current address, such as a utility bill, bank statement, etc. (A tenancy agreement is not acceptable.)
(4) Where relevant, the original decree absolute of divorce, and a completed Form and Explanatory Statement. (See Marriage After Divorce.)
(5) In order to comply with the Advice to Clergy issued by the House of Bishops (see Sham Marriages, below) a letter from the minister who it is intended should conduct the marriage, stating that he or she has met both parties (preferably on a number of occasions and at least once in their own homes) and, having discussed the marriage with them, is satisfied that the intended marriage is genuine and that he or she is content to conduct the marriage. The letter from the minister should also contain confirmation of the applicants' qualifying connection with the church where they wish to be married.
Where a document which is produced is in a foreign language, the party concerned may be required to produce a certified translation.
Where one party to a proposed marriage is a non-EEA national, application for a Common Licence must be made to the Diocesan Registrar, rather than to one of the Surrogates referred to above, although the Registrar may at his discretion direct that a particular application is taken by a Surrogate. Although only one party is required to sign the application, both parties must attend to apply for the licence, in case the Registrar or Surrogate wishes to ask any questions of the party who is not signing the application.
On 12 April 2011, the House of Bishops issued some Advice to Clergy concerning sham marriages involving non-EEA nationals. At the same time some Guidance to Clergy from the UK Border Agency was circulated. Clergy are encouraged to familiarise themselves with this advice and guidance. The advice of the Legal Advisory Commission of General Synod has always been that, where one of the parties to a marriage is not a British national, the marriage ought to be by licence, rather than by banns.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has the right to grant a Special Licence for a marriage to take place at any convenient time or place in England or Wales. The issue of a Special Licence is discretionary. The most common need for a Special Licence is if the parties wish to be married in a church or chapel of a parish where neither resides or is on the church electoral roll, and where neither can show a qualifying connection under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008. Another common reason is if the parties wish to be married elsewhere than in a building which is authorised for marriage according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England, for example, a school or college chapel.
Superintendent Registrar's Certificate
A Superintendent Registrar of a civil Register Office may issue a Certificate to permit a marriage to take place in an Anglican church. One of the parties must have the required seven days' residence within the registration district and within the parish where the marriage is to take place before applying for the Certificate, or the church must be the usual place of worship of one or both of the parties. The Registrar enters the details of the parties in a book which is open to public inspection and also displays a notice at the Register Office for 15 days. If no impediments are shown within the period of 15 days, a Superintendent Registrar's Certificate can be issued. However, a clergyman is under no obligation to marry people who have chosen this preliminary, and in practice clergy will recommend banns or a Common Licence.
The Church of England Marriage Measure 2008
Under the Marriage Act 1949, a person may only be married by banns or Common Licence in the church of a parish where he or she resides or is on the church electoral roll. The aim of the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 is to allow couples to be married by banns or Common Licence, rather than by Special Licence, in a parish where one of the parties can show that he or she has a "qualifying connection".
A person has a qualifying connection with a parish if:
- that person:
- was baptised in the parish. (This does not apply where the baptism formed part of a combined service of baptism or confirmation); or
- had his or her confirmation entered in a church register book of a church or chapel in the parish; or
- has at any time had his or her usual place of residence in the parish for at least 6 months; or
- has at any time habitually attended public worship in the parish for at least 6 months; or
- a parent of that person has at any time during that person's lifetime:
- had his or her usual place of residence in the parish for at least 6 months; or
- habitually attended public worship in the parish for at least 6 months; or
- a parent or grandparent of that person was married in the parish.
The references to baptism, confirmation and marriage, and to attending public worship, are all confined to services according to the rites of the Church of England.
The Measure came into force on 1st October 2008. The House of Bishops has issued some Guidance on the new Measure, which includes a marriage information form, for use by clergy. See also, the Church of England web site.
Marriage After Divorce
In July 2002, General Synod decided to rescind the marriage resolutions of the Convocations of Canterbury and York, which had urged clergy not to use the marriage service in the case of anyone who had a former partner still living. In November 2002, the House of Bishops issued Advice to Clergy concerning the procedure to be followed when one of the applicants for a marriage licence is a divorced person with a former spouse still living. The Archbishop of Canterbury decided in 2003 to review the policy concerning the issue of Special Licences, and invited the House of Bishops to consider and comment on his proposals. In January 2004, the House of Bishops discussed the issue of both Special and Common Licences in respect of those being married in church after divorce and also where neither party to the marriage has been baptised. The House voted to support the Archbishop's proposals regarding the issue of Special Licences and agreed that the same policy should apply to the issue of Common Licences by Diocesan Bishops.
The General Synod Office has produced for enquiring couples a Form and Explanatory Statement concerning marriage in church after divorce. In future, when a couple wish to apply for a Common Licence, if one of them is a divorced person with a former spouse still living, the clergyman concerned should interview the couple, in accordance with the Advice to Clergy, and ask the couple to complete the Form and Explanatory Statement. The completed form should be submitted with the application for a Common Licence to the Diocesan Registrar, who will seek the advice of the Bishop.
Whilst parishioners normally have the right to be married in the parish church of the parish where they live, a clergyman is entitled by law to refuse to remarry a divorced person in church whilst the former spouse is still living. (See Section 8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1965.)
Marriage of Unbaptised Persons
It was formerly the practice that, where neither party was baptised, an application for a common licence should be referred to the Bishop. At a meeting in January 2004, the House of Bishops agreed that the unbaptised status of one or both parties should no longer be a bar to the grant of a Common Licence. Accordingly there is no longer a need to refer an application to the Bishop where neither party is baptised.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Q1: Can I be married in any church in the benefice where I live?
- Under the Marriage Act 1949, a person could only be married in the church of a parish where he or she resided or was on the electoral roll. However, the various Pastoral Measures since 1949 have allowed a bishop to make an order in respect of a united benefice, so that anyone living in any parish of the benefice can have banns called and have the marriage solemnised in any other parish of the same benefice. In the Peterborough Diocese we currently have sixteen united benefices in respect of which such orders have been made. When the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 introduced "qualifying connections", such connections applied only to a parish, not to any parish in the same benefice. Therefore, if a person had a qualifying connection with Parish A of a three-parish benefice, that qualifying connection did not allow that person to be married in Parish B or Parish C of the same benefice (unless there was an additional qualifying connection there), even if the Bishop had made an order under the Marriage Act and the Pastoral Measure. This anomaly has now been corrected, so that if a person only has a qualifying connection with Parish A, the qualifying connection extends to parish B and Parish C as well, but only if there is a bishop's order in place. (A bishop's order can extend to more than one benefice, if two or more benefices are held in plurality.)
- Q2: Is a clergyman obliged to marry a parishioner?
- Yes, unless either (a) one of the parties is divorced and the former spouse is still living, or (b) the marriage is prohibited by law owing to the relationship of the parties, or (c) one of the parties is a minor and the appropriate consent or consents have not been given.
- Q3: Where can I be married if my parish has no parish church?
- There are three options:
(1) You can be married in any church of a parish with which you have a qualifying connection under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 (see above).
(2) You can apply for a Special Licence to be married in a church or chapel or other place where you do not have a connection under the 2008 Measure, although in practice the Faculty Office will not normally issue a Special Licence unless you have some connection with the place where you wish to be married, for example, a school or college chapel.
(3) Under the Marriage Act, if a person lives in a parish which has no parish church (where, for example, there is a Parish Centre of Worship, which does not have the legal status of a parish church) or is on the electoral roll of a church which is not a "parish church", he or she has the right to be married in the parish church of any adjoining parish. When the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 came into force and created "qualifying connections", a person having a connection with a parish with no parish church did not have a similar right to be married in the parish church of any adjoining parish. This is because the 2008 Measure only gave the person the right to be married in a church of a parish where he or she had a qualifying connection (e.g. where he or she used to live). This situation could give rise to a difficulty, because if a person lived in a parish with no parish church (Parish A), and booked a wedding in the church of an adjoining parish (Parish B), but then moved before the wedding to Parish C, the person could not have banns called in Parish B, because the qualifying connection was with Parish A, not Parish B. This difficulty has now been addressed by the 2012 Measure. If a person has a qualifying connection with a parish with no parish church, they can now have banns called and be married in the parish church of any parish adjoining the parish where they have a qualifying connection.
- Q4: What happens if the church in which I am to be married has to be closed for repairs or rebuilding?
- Where a person is entitled under the Marriage Act to be married in a particular church (i.e. resident in the parish or on the church electoral roll), but that church has to be closed for repair or rebuilding, the parish can be treated as part of any adjoining parish. Therefore the person can have banns called and the marriage can be solemnised in the parish church of any adjoining parish. "Adjoining parish" means any parish physically adjoining the first parish. This could include a parish in a different benefice. It would not include another parish in the same benefice which is not contiguous with the first.) The Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure 2012 now provides that a similar arrangement will apply to a parish where a person has a qualifying connection. Thus, if a couple are planning to be married in a parish where they have a qualifying connection, but the church has to be closed temporarily at the time of the wedding, the couple will be treated as having a qualifying connection with any adjoining parish.
- Q5: Is it possible to be married in my school or college chapel?
- Yes, if the Faculty Office is prepared to grant a Special Licence.
- Q6: Can I be married in the church of the parish where my parents live?
- The Church of England Marriage Measure 2008 allows a couple to be married by banns or by common licence in the church of a parish where a parent of a party to the proposed marriage has resided at any time for a period of not less than six months during the lifetime of the party concerned.
- Q7: Can I be married at any time of day?
- Special Licence can authorise a marriage at any time of day or night, but in the case of the other alternative preliminaries, the marriage must take place between 8.00am and 6.00pm. See the Opinion of the Legal Advisory Commission concerning the timing of marriage services.
- Q7: What is the cost of a Special Licence?
- The fee payable for a Special Licence (issued by the Faculty Office in Westminster on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury) is £295.00 (as from 1 April 2013). Once the application has been approved, one of the parties will have to swear an affidavit (a formal statement) to confirm the information given. This can be done in front of an Anglican minister (to whom a fee of £5.00 will be payable) near to where the parties to the proposed marriage reside, or at the Faculty Office (when no extra fee is charged).
- Q8: Can I have a Roman Catholic (or other non-Anglican) wedding in an Anglican church?
- No. A Roman Catholic wedding in England must be preceded by civil preliminaries, and must take place in a registered building. An Anglican church is a not a "registered building" for this purpose.
- Q9: Can a Roman Catholic (or other non-Anglican) be married in an Anglican church, even if it is not possible to have a Roman Catholic (or other) wedding service?
- Yes. People of any faith can be married in an Anglican church, provided that the Anglican form of marriage service is used. An Anglican priest must conduct the service. For the marriage to be legally valid, there are certain parts of the Anglican marriage service which an Anglican priest must say, including the final blessing, but a clergyman of another denomination may assist with other parts of the service, for example, an address or prayers. There is a detailed discussion of this question in Legal Opinions Concerning the Church of England, 8th Ed. 2007 on pages 365-366.
- Q10: What is the correct terminology for describing the parties to a marriage in marriage certificates?
- The Registrar General has amended the regulations on
registration, following the coming into effect of the Civil
Partnerships Act 2004. The terms "bachelor" and "spinster" are no
longer to be used in marriage registers and certificates. The alternative terms
to be used are as follows:
SingleThe same terms will be used in applications for Common Licences.
Previous marriage dissolved
Previous marriage annulled
Surviving civil partner
Previous civil partnership dissolved
Previous civil partnership annulled
- Q11: What is the correct wording for the calling of banns?
- The words prescribed by the Book of Common Prayer are:
"I publish the banns of marriage between N of ------- and N of ------. If any of you know cause or just impediment, why these two person should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is for the first [second or third] time of asking."
The Church of England Marriage (Amendment) Measure 2012 provides that the following alternative wording may be used:
"I publish the banns of marriage between NN of ..... and NN of .....
This is the first/second/third time of asking.
If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other you are to declare it."
- Q12: What wording should be used by a clergyman calling banns in a case where one of the parties to a proposed marriage has a qualifying connection under the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008?
- The normal wording referred to in the prevous answer should be used for the banns, except that at the point where the banns refer to the person with the qualifying connection, the words "N of the parish of ------" should be changed to "N of the parish of ------ who wishes to be married in this church by virtue of his/her connection with this parish".
- Q13: One of the parties to a proposed marriage is divorced. Is it necessary to mention the status of the parties when banns are published?
- No. It is not necessary to mention the status when calling banns.
- Q14: Does my natural father's name have to appear in the marriage register?
- Normally, the natural father's name should appear in the register. Where a person has been legally adopted, his or her adoptive father's name may be entered without qualification. But if the party to the marriage is known by a surname different from that of his or her adoptive father, and the name and surname of the adoptive father are entered in column 7 of the register, then the words "adoptive parent" may be entered in brackets after the surname, if this is desired by the party. But occasionally one of the parties to a marriage may not wish his or her father's name to appear, for example, if he or she has never known his or her natural father, or has been brought up by a step-father. In such case the minister should not insist on the natural parent's name being entered, but should draw a line through the columns relating to the father's names and profession, to show that the information was not supplied. However, since the coming into force of the Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Regulations 2007, it has been permissible to record a step-father's name, instead of the natural father's name, provided that the step-father is, or has been, married to the mother. Where a step-father's name is entered, the word "step-father" should be entered after the surname.
- Q15: What should be done if a clergyman makes an error in a marriage register?
- See the Guide for Clergy, published by the General Register Office.
Recommended Reading for Clergy:
- ANGLICAN MARRIAGE IN ENGLAND AND WALES - A GUIDE TO TH LAW FOR CLERGY (3rd Ed. 2010)
- The third edition (August 2010) of the Faculty Office booklet Anglican Marriage in
England and Wales : A Guide to the Law for Clergy can be ordered by email or by post,
Post: 1 The Sanctuary, Westminster, London SW1P 3JT
Cheques should be made payable to The Faculty Office.
- GUIDE FOR CLERGY
- The General Register Office has produced an excellent Guide for Clergy in relation to the Marriage and Registration Acts.
- CLERGY NEWSLETTERS
- Clergy Newsletters, prepared by the General Register Office, can be viewed or downloaded at the Government Web Site
- MARRIAGE IN CHURCH AFTER DIVORCE (GS1361)
- A discussion document commissioned by the House of Bishops. Church House Publishing. £5.00 ISBN 0 7151 3833 2