Are marriages abroad recognised in the UK?

Given the multi-cultural society that we live in, it is becoming a regular occurrence to see clients who have married abroad.  One of the first considerations in such situations is whether the marriage is recognised in the UK.

Is an overseas marriage legal in the UK?

If a couple go through a marriage ceremony overseas and then proceed to live with one another as man and wife, the presumption is that the marriage is legal in the UK.  However, this presumption can be overturned if there is enough evidence to show that the marriage is not legal.

How can foreign marriages be recognised in the eyes of the court?

In order for foreign marriages to be recognised as legal in the UK, the following conditions must be met:

  • The marriage must be recognised as a legal marriage in the country in which it took place and the parties to the marriage must have complied with the procedures required in the country of marriage. This generally includes giving the relevant notice and having the required witnesses.
  • Each party to the marriage must have capacity to marry under the laws of the country that they are domiciled at the time of the marriage. The country in which you are domiciled will be the country of your main permanent home in which you live, or to which you intend to return.  Capacity covers issues such as age, consent and mental capacity.
  • Any previous marriage must be properly terminated as per the requirements of English law.

It is also important to have evidence of the marriage, which will generally be the original marriage certificate.  If the marriage certificate is not in English, then a certified translation of the marriage certificate will need to be obtained.

What are the reasons the UK doesn’t recognise foreign marriages?

In very rare circumstances the UK will not recognise a foreign marriage because of public policy; such as one party has been deceitful.

What act do you need to abide by if you get married abroad?

You must contact the local authorities in the country where you want to get married in order to find out what procedures must be complied with, in order to ensure the marriage is legal in the relevant country.  It may also be sensible to speak with the British Embassy in the relevant country to cross reference the information that you have obtained.

What is the procedure for registering a foreign marriage?

Up until 1 January 2014, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office provided a service whereby foreign marriage certificates could be deposited with the General Register Office in the UK; however this service has now been discontinued.  In light of this, no action is needed to register a foreign marriage in the UK.  It is therefore important that the parties to the marriage take steps to store their original marriage certificate in a safe place, as it may not be a simple task to get a certified copy of the marriage certificate at a later date.

For more information on the issues raised in this blog please do not hesitate to contact us.

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