A report by the Law Commission in England and Wales has labelled the current law surrounding marriage as out of date, inconsistent and overly restrictive. Following the publication of the report, entitled ‘Getting Married’, the Law Commission has recommended that current laws be updated to better meet the needs of couples in today’s society.

The result of a nine month review conducted at the request of the government, the ‘Getting Married’ report was published last week; sparking debate as to the specific rules that might benefit from being changed.

In an area last modernised in 1836, one of the main problems regarding the current law is that it fails to cater adequately for the many faiths and non-religious beliefs that make up 21st century society.

One area of the current law that has been identified as being particularly restrictive is the physical location of the wedding ceremony . Nowadays, people want much greater freedom of choice; perhaps to get married outdoors or in a place that is particularly meaningful to them. However under the law, civil marriages must happen in a register office or on approved premises and cannot contain religious content such as readings from holy books. Couples that elect for a religious ceremony must have the service conducted within a registered place of religious worship.

A further issue identified by the Law Commission is the lack of clarity in existing marriage law, which can make it difficult to know whether a valid marriage has taken place or not. There have been examples cited of people unexpectedly finding that their marriage is not legally recognised some years after they believed they had got ‘married’.

Professor Nicholas Hopkins of the Law Commission said:

“The law of marriage in England and Wales is now out of date, inconsistent and overly restrictive. Our modern society deserves a clearer set of rules that gives all couples greater choice and certainty, while providing protection from the abuses involved in sham and forced marriage.”

It is positive that the government has recognised the need to modernise the law in this area. It will be interesting to see how this progresses and just how far reforms go.

In the meantime, for any advice or assistance in relation to family law, please get in touch with our experienced team.

The Law Commission’s report can be read here