Saying “I Do” beside the Seaside

Rebecca Massam Family Law Solicitor

Marrying abroad is very popular. Not only will it ensure a glorious photo backdrop and endless blue sky, but as worldwide travel has become easier, more and more international couples are opting to wed in other countries before finding themselves settled into family life in the UK.

Whether you are planning a wedding abroad or have already married, you might wonder if your marriage is or will be legally valid in the UK. This will be an important question if you and your spouse should separate too.

Will my marriage be recognised in the UK?

The vast majority of weddings or civil partnerships that take place abroad are valid in England and Wales, but some may not be. If you have followed all legal requirements for the country you are marrying in, your marriage should be valid in England and does not need to be registered. There will be a long list of documents that you will need before you get married, and if you are planning your wedding, you should ensure that these are all prepared and packed before you leave.

However, if for some reason your wedding did not meet the criteria e.g. it was performed by someone without the right accreditation or the right documentation was not signed, then it will be invalid. Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall fell foul of this when they discovered (upon trying to divorce) that their Hindu wedding ceremony in Bali wasn’t recognised under Indonesian or English law due to incomplete legal documents.

You must also be of the legal minimum age to marry in the UK (16 and with parental consent in England and Wales, 18 without) even if that’s higher than the country you marry in.

Having a foreign wedding certificate is not a problem either, and a certified translation can be obtained if needed. However, if there is some doubt about the validity of your marriage, it can have a serious impact on divorce, tax, wills, inheritance etc, so make sure you’re certain every box is ticked. If you have any worries, you can always complete the legal part of your wedding in the UK and hold a blessing ceremony abroad.

Can I get divorced in England if I married abroad?

If you have a valid marriage abroad, then you can still obtain a divorce in the UK in the same way that you would if you had been married here. The only difference will be the need for a translated marriage certificate.

If you have ongoing links to another country, however, and you are planning to apply for a divorce, then it is a good idea to get advice from a family lawyer early on, as you may also be eligible to apply for a divorce in another country. It may be more advantageous to apply for divorce in the UK for one spouse and elsewhere for the other, so seeking advice from a lawyer in the other jurisdiction would also be beneficial. It would be helpful to know your spouse’s plans so that you can avoid getting into what is known as a “jurisdiction race”, where you are effectively racing against each other to make the application in a certain country before the other. This isn’t conducive to an amicable and collaborative divorce.

Pre-Nuptial Agreements

Prenuptial agreements are commonplace in many countries outside the UK, and some will require you to have one in place, along with a Will at the time that you marry. One benefit of having a Prenup is that in the event of divorce, it can provide for what jurisdiction will deal with the legalities and so can remove the potential for future conflict over this issue for international couples.

For further information, please contact Rebecca Massam in the family law team on 01732 747900 or email [email protected] 

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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