If thoughts of a religious ceremony or stately home wedding don’t float your boat, you might have considered getting married in a registry office.
In the UK, you can use a registry office to declare a birth, death, marriage or civil partnership, and registry office weddings remain a popular choice. They can be a lovely and understated alternative to the traditional big white wedding, and a great way to save money on your wedding budget. They’re often followed by an intimate dinner with the couple’s closest friends and family.
Alternatively, registry office weddings can be the pre-cursor to a destination wedding to ensure all the legalities are sorted before you jet off. In that case, you might not want to invite any of your friends and family at all.
If you’re considering getting married in a registry office, here’s everything you need to know to get started with your planning…
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Who Can Get Married in a Registry Office?
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The rules on who can get married in a registry office are the same as who can get married everywhere else in the UK.
To be legally married in the UK, you and your partner must be at least 16 years old (although in England and Wales, if either of you are under 18 your parents must give their consent), and you must not be closely related (hopefully that one is obvious).
Different rules apply to anyone from outside the European Economic Area or Switzerland. If your partner isn’t from the UK, Switzerland or the EEA and isn’t settled in the UK, they will need to apply for a Marriage or Civil Partnership Visitor visa.
The government website has all the information you need.
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What Do You Need to Get Married in a Registry Office?
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To get married in a registry office, you’ll first need to choose which one. It could be the closest one to where you live, the registry office in the town you were born or simply somewhere that holds a special place in your hearts. You can use this registry office finder to help you – simply pop in your postcode!
Once you’ve decided on a date and location for your ceremony (dependent on the registrar’s availability), you’ll need to give notice at your local registry office. This is the same process you’d need to go through if you were getting married at another registered venue like a pub or restaurant wedding venue.
If you plan on getting married at a registry office which isn’t within your district, you should still go to your local one to give notice. They’ll be able to notify the office you plan to marry at on your behalf. You’ll then need to call the registry office you want to marry at to book a 15 minute appointment. At this appointment, you’ll have an interview, fill in forms and have your identity checked. If you and your other half live in different registration districts, you should give notice separately at your own local registry offices. You do not have to do this on the same day as each other.
You have 12 months from the date you give notice to marry and you can give notice no less than 28 days before the date of your proposed marriage. We wouldn’t recommend leaving things this late though! The registrar needs time to decide whether the two of you are free and able to marry each other, and the registry office needs to have availability on your chosen date.
When you first go to the registry office, you need to take proof of your name, age and nationality. This could be a valid passport, birth certificate, national identity card, certificate of registration, certificate of naturalisation, biometric residence card or permit, or a travel document. If you’ve changed your name, you must also bring proof of that, for example, a deed poll and proof of address.
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You will also need to bring proof of address, for example a valid UK or EEA driving licence, gas or electricity bill from the last three months, a bank statement from the last month, or a council tax bill or mortgage settlement from the last 12 months. It’s best to check with your local registry office what exactly they will require from you before you go – for example, some may specifically require a photographic form of ID.
When you send your marriage notice application form you’ll also need to provide the originals of your birth or adoption certificate and passport to support your application. If you’ve been married before, you’ll need to provide your decree absolute as evidence of your divorce, the marriage certificate from your previous marriage and a death certificate, if your previous spouse passed away.
Once everything has been sent off, you may be asked to visit your registrar’s office ahead of the marriage date to make final arrangements or collect the marriage schedule. On the day of the ceremony, after you’ve said your vows, the registrar will grant you with a marriage certificate and register the marriage.
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How Much Does it Cost to Get Married in a Registry Office?
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If you choose to marry at a registry office, you’ll have to pay for hiring a room in the registry office, for each person to give notice and for a marriage certificate.
The cost of hiring a room in a registry office usually starts from £57+ for a basic ceremony.
The fee for giving notice when you present your notice application is usually £35 per person. It goes up to £47 per person if either of you are from outside the EU, European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland, and both of the following apply: you need a visa to live in the UK and you do not have a Marriage or Civil Partnership Visitor visa or a family visa.
Last but not least, you’ll need to pay for your marriage certificate. This costs £4 on the day or £10 if you collect it afterwards, although lots of registry offices include the certificate cost in their room price. We’d always recommend having a copy of your marriage certificate to hand at home.
Additional costs you can incur include: paying for a ceremony room not just a registry office room, extra charges for Saturday appointments to give notice, and fees paid for approving divorce documents from outside the UK or making changes to your application.
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How Long Does a Wedding at a Registry Office Take?
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A marriage ceremony in a local registry office will take approximately 10-15 minutes.
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How Many Witnesses Do You Need for a Registry Office Wedding?
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As romantic as it might sound to get married with no one around but the two of you, you sadly can’t say “I do” in the absence of witnesses.
Not only must your marriage be conducted by a person (or in the presence of a person) authorised to register marriages in the district, but you must also have at least two witnesses.
These two witnesses must witness the ceremony before signing at the time of marriage. Witnesses don’t legally have to be of a certain age but you should check with the person marrying you if they have an age limit on who they’ll accept. Oh, and you don’t actually have to know your witnesses!
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What Does a Registry Office Wedding Look Like?
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If you think registry office weddings are dull, you couldn’t be more wrong. According to the General Register Office, you can more or less tailor the ceremony to suit your own individual tastes, needs and ideas. This is a fab way to make it that little bit special!
Registry offices are normally decorated with flowers pre-ceremony, but there’s nothing to stop you from arranging your own floral display or decorations. That said, you should bear in mind that several weddings may be held in the same day as yours, and any intricate decorations or displays are likely to be impossible. They’d take far too long to put up and take down!
Your choice of music and readings are allowed at a registry office, but hymns or passages from the Bible are not. Music and readings with religious connotations are not allowed.
If there’s anything out of the ordinary that you’d like to have or do at your registry office wedding, it’s best to speak to your local superintendent registrar. Each has their own individual criteria as to what is and isn’t allowed during the ceremony, and they’ll be open to discussing ideas with you.
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Do I Need to Get Married in a UK Registry Office Before Getting Married Abroad?
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It will depend on the country you’re getting married in as to whether you’ll need to get officially married in the UK before going away.
Many countries have a minimum residency period before you can obtain a marriage licence there. For example, in parts of Italy it varies between four and seven days, but in France, at least one of the parties will need to prove they’ve lived in the country for a minimum of 30 days prior to the application for a marriage licence. In Spain, you can only marry if you’ve been a resident for the last two years, or, if you live in the UK, for either party to be a Spanish national. Unless you want to move to Spain for two years, a British couple living in the UK can’t have a legal wedding in Spain.
Start your research early, and if the country you want to get married in has a minimum residency period, it might be easier to get married in a registry office in the UK and then just hold a blessing abroad. Check out our ultimate guide to getting married abroad for more information.
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What Should You Wear to a Registry Office Wedding?
Whether your registry office wedding is your main event or an add-on to your destination wedding, you’ll want to look and feel your best when you’re saying your vows.
It can be pretty difficult to know what to wear to a registry office wedding, but in short, anything goes. Some brides might choose a traditional wedding dress while others might opt for a modern bridal jumpsuit or a shorter, more casual gown. Oh, and you don’t have to wear white either! Everything is entirely up to you.
If you’re feeling stuck, click here to see our favourite registry office wedding dresses plus some top tips for registry office wedding dressing.
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Does the idea of a registry office wedding sound tempting? If it does, wonderful, but if it doesn’t, consider a small wedding venue! They have the intimate vibe that registry offices do, but they’re just that bit fancier.