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.
The following notes summarises the law from 1 October 2008. The law has been changed from that date by the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008, and law relating to the registration of marriages has been updated with effect from 4th May 2021. The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 has amended Section 2 the Marriage Act 1949 law to raise the minimum age for legal marriage, or civil partnership, from 16 to 18 years.
Alongside the wedding preparations, and consideration of any legal issues, it is also important for any couple intending to marry to spend time talking through their expectations of marriage. However much you think you have in common, you are still two separate individuals with different backgrounds, personalities, experiences, hopes and fears. The minister who is taking your service will probably want to spend some time with you talking through these issues, and this can be very worthwhile. Churches sometimes offer marriage preparation, sometimes as part of a group with other couples. This gives you an opportunity to think through possible areas of difficulty and how you will handle them as a couple.