Follow Us:


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 (obtained from the Diocesan Registrar); or
  • The issue of a Special Licence by the Archbishop (obtained from The Faculty Office in London); or
  • The issue of a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate (obtained from a Civil Register Office).

The following notes summarise the law from 1 October 2008. The law was updated at that time 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 also 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 usually spend some time with you talking through these issues, and this can be very worthwhile.  Some churches 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.


Yes. If you wish to be married according to the rites of the Church of England somewhere other than in a parish church or other building licensed for public worship, you will need to obtain a Special Licence from the Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Otherwise, you may be married at a registered building under the authority of a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate, although such a marriage could not be carried out according to the rites of the Church of England.

Yes, unless either (a) one of the parties is divorced and the former spouse is still living, or (b) the marriage is prohibited by law owing to the relationship of the parties, or (c) one of the parties is a minor and the appropriate consent or consents have not been given.

Yes, if the Faculty Office is prepared to grant a Special Licence.

The law has changed with the coming into force on 1st October 2008 of the Church of England Marriage Measure 2008. This measure allows a couple to be married by banns or by common licence in the church of a parish where a parent of either party to the proposed marriage has resided at any time for a period of not less of 6 months during the life time of the party proposing to be married.

Special Licence can authorise a marriage at any time of day or night, but in the case of marriage in a Church of England church by banns, common licence or Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate, the marriage must take place between 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.

Section 4 of the Marriage Act 1949 restricted the hours when marriages may be solemnized to between 8.00 am and 6.00 pm. Section 114 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which came into force on 1 October 2012, has repealed section 4 of the 1949 Act thereby removing that statutory restriction. It has also repealed the criminal offence of solemnizing a marriage outside the permitted hours contained in section 75(1)(a) of the 1949 Act.

The repeal of section 4 of the Marriage Act 1949 does not, however, change the hours between which a marriage may lawfully be solemnized in the Church of England. That is because Canon B 35.3 of the Canons of the Church of England provides, “A marriage may not be solemnized at any unseasonable hours but only between the hours of eight in the forenoon and six in the afternoon.” The restriction contained in the Canon remains in force notwithstanding the repeal of section 4 of the 1949 Act. The Canons are legally binding on the clergy, so marriages may only take place in a Church of England church between 8.00 a.m. and 6.00 p.m.

The fee payable for a Special Licence (issued by the Faculty Office in Westminster on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury) was £315.00 from 1 April 2017. Once the application has been approved, one of the parties will have to swear an affidavit (a formal statement) to confirm the information given. This can be done in front of an Anglican minister (to whom a fee of £5.00 will be payable) near to where the parties to the proposed marriage reside, or at the Faculty Office (when no extra fee is charged).

No. A Roman Catholic wedding in England must be preceded by civil preliminaries, and must take place in a registered building. An Anglican church is a not a ‘registered building’ for this purpose.

Yes. People of any faith can be married in an Anglican church, provided that the Anglican form of marriage service is used. An Anglican priest must conduct the service. For the marriage to be legally valid, there are certain parts of the Anglican marriage service which an Anglican priest must say, including the final blessing, but a clergyman of another denomination may assist with other parts of the service, for example, an address or prayers. There is a detailed discussion of this question in Legal Opinions Concerning the Church of England, 8th Ed. 2007 on pages 365-366.

 Normally, the answer is no, unless you have a qualifying connection with the parish where you wish to be married, or unless you obtain a Special Licence. The Marriage Act 1949 allows people to have banns called in the church of any parish where they reside or have a qualifying connection with the parish, and then to be married in the church, or in one of the churches, where banns have been called. Likewise, a person can apply for a Common Licence to be married in the church of any parish with which they have a ‘qualifying connection’.

However, it is possible for the Bishop to make an order under Paragraph 12 of Schedule 3 of the Mission and Pastoral Measure 2011, specifying where banns may be called and marriages solemnised in a multi-parish benefice. Effectively, this means that the Bishop can make an order saying that any person living within the benefice can have banns called in, and be married in, any church within the benefice. So before thinking about being married in a different parish in the same benefice, you will need to find out whether the Bishop has made an order under the Pastoral Measure in respect of the benefice. If there is no such order in place, then you will need to apply for a Special Licence, unless you can show a qualifying connection with the other parish.

The Registrar General has amended the regulations on registration, following the coming into effect of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004. The terms “bachelor” and “spinster” are no longer to be used in marriage registers and certificates. The alternative terms to be used are as follows:

  • Single
  • Widow
  • Widower
  • Previous marriage dissolved
  • Previous marriage annulled
  • Surviving civil partner
  • Previous civil partnership dissolved
  • Previous civil partnership annulled

The same terms will be used in applications for Common Licences.

Normally, the natural father’s name should appear in the register. Where a person has been legally adopted, his or her adoptive father’s name may be entered without qualification. But if the party to the marriage is known by a surname different from that of his or her adoptive father, and the name and surname of the adoptive father are entered in column 7 of the register, then the words “adoptive parent” may be entered in brackets after the surname, if this is desired by the party. But occasionally one of the parties to a marriage may not wish his or her father’s name to appear, for example, if he or she has never known his or her natural father, or has been brought up by a step-father. In such case the minister should not insist on the natural parent’s name being entered, but should draw a line through the columns relating to the father’s names and profession, to show that the information was not supplied. However, since the coming into force of the Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Regulations 2007, it has been permissible to record a step-father’s name, instead of the natural father’s name, provided that the step-father is, or has been, married to the mother. Where a step-father’s name is entered, the word “step-father” should be entered after the surname.

Advice on changing your name is set out on the Government website at Changing Your Name by Deed Poll. You can keep your maiden name after marriage if you wish, and no action is required to achieve this. To change to a double-barrelled surname after marriage, your fiancé could change his name by Deed Poll to the new name before you marry, and you could simply adopt his new name after marriage; or you could both change your names by Deed Poll after the marriage. If you both want to be known by the bride’s surname after the marriage, the groom can change his surname to the bride’s surname by Deed Poll prior to the marriage.

There is a helpful Home Office publication entitled “A Guide for Authorised Persons” which sets out guidance on marriage preliminaries, the legal requirements for solemnisation of marriages, registration of marriages, correction of entries in the register, and the submission of quarterly returns of marriages to the superintendent registrar. See also “Guidebook for the Clergy”.

Since BREXIT it is required that a foreign national has settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme in order to be married by Common Licence.  If they do not hold this status then they will need to apply for a Superintendent Registrars Certificate from a civil register office.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raised the minimum age at which anyone can get married, or enter a Civil Partnership,  in England from 16 years to 18 years.