Dream wedding vibes - but make it legal!

two women in wedding dresses sat at a table decorated with wedding setting items The wedding industry has undergone a seismic shift in the last few years. As a result of changing family structures, as well as the impact of the Covid pandemic, what we know as 'traditional' weddings are becoming less common.

What we are seeing instead is a move towards alternative weddings which couples feel better fit with their personal tastes. Restrictions have meant that smaller weddings have been chosen, sometimes in favour of waiting out the lockdowns. Thankfully, as things start to return to normal, larger weddings are back on the market.

However, at Stowe Family Law, we are seeing a considerable change in the approaches couples are taking to their nuptials. Our experts have recently conducted a survey on the changing views around marriage and the popularity, among younger couples in particular, of non-traditional weddings. The survey polled 500 people across the UK to understand more fully how the concept of marriage is shifting to better reflect modern familial demands.

head shot of woman smiling in a suit jacket The survey revealed that 56% of 25 – 34-year-olds and ¼ of those aged 35 – 44 see traditional marriage as an outdated concept, compared to only 16% of those aged 65+.

50 years ago, couples got married regardless of their financial position. A smaller affair tended to be more common and so the notion of the 'big white wedding' is somewhat of a recent trend. Becoming increasingly popular, however, is a non-traditional wedding where elements of, or the whole wedding itself, take on a very different style. Alternative wedding is a broad term which basically covers anything from what's known as 'a first look' where the couple see each other before the ceremony, to outdoor weddings, or humanist ceremonies.

The Legal Stuff
It is important to understand the legalities of different types of weddings, particularly if you and your partner want your marriage to be officially recognised.

Declining marriage rates over the past several years have led to an inquiry by the Law Commission. Developments are, thankfully, underway to tackle the problem and make the wedding industry accessible to everyone. Steps are being taken to re-democratise marriage and ensure that couples can have their dream wedding in whatever way they choose.

With the legalisation of civil partnerships for heterosexual couples as well as gay marriage, alternative weddings have become forerunners in the wedding industry, with more and more couples adapting the traditional wedding structure to suit themselves.

In terms of where you can get married, technically the answer is anywhere. However, a venue must be licensed in order for your marriage to be recognised under the law. So, if you want your wedding ceremony on a mountain, or more casually in your back garden, the options are to have a registry office ceremony, or a civil partnership, performed as well. The world is your oyster, but unfortunately the law hasn't quite caught up.

It is essential to check with your venue of choice as to whether they are licensed and therefore you can be legally married there and therefore if you need to make extra arrangements for your legal ceremony.

A humanist wedding is a completely non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant. The whole process is unique to the couple and can take place anywhere and take on any style. These types of weddings are becoming increasingly popular for those who don't have a particular religious leaning. However, a humanist celebrant cannot legally marry the couple, and a registry office wedding is usually the best option. This is a great option if you have big dreams for your wedding and the traditional style just doesn't cut it.

In the coming months, the Law Commission will present its findings to the government, along with recommendations for changes to the marriage laws. Reforming the law will allow couples far more flexibility to choose a wedding which suits them. Although this has been a slow process, change is afoot for a fairer legal structure which will keep pace with ever- changing lifestyles.

Rachel Darrell is a Senior Solicitor at Stowe Family Law.

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