Wednesday, August 18th, 2021
As of 1 July 2021, it is now possible for couples in England and Wales to enter into a marriage or civil partnership in an outdoor ceremony.
Previously, wedding and civil partnership ceremonies had to take place inside an ‘Approved Premises’ such as a hotel or country house. The requirement for an Approved Premises is that it is a permanent built structure (or moored boat) which contains at least one room to be approved for civil partnership and wedding ceremonies. A ceremony that took place outside, even on the grounds of an Approved Premises, would not be binding.
Under the new rules, couples will have greater flexibility and options available to them in terms of the details of the ceremony and number of guests in attendance. Outdoor ceremonies will be particularly beneficial during the pandemic where concerns over social distancing and indoor gatherings remain.
Ceremonies may also take place under a “partially covered structure” as long as at it has at least a 50% open area (i.e. a marquee with open walls) – something which will be vital for unpredictable British weather!
In England and Wales religious weddings may take place at churches, synagogues, Meeting Houses or registered religious buildings. It is not a requirement that the religious building also be an Approved Premises.
The new legislation applies to civil ceremonies only and so does not allow outdoor religious weddings. However, if a religious building is also registered as an Approved Premises, they will be allowed to hold civil ceremonies outdoors should they so wish.
Special historical rules exist for Jewish and Quaker weddings allowing them to take place outdoors. However, for all other religions, religious ceremonies will continue to take place indoors in a registered religious building or in Church of England and Church of Wales churches/chapels.
Plans to expand outdoor ceremonies to religious marriages are in place and the government has pledged to implement these changes once “parliamentary time allows”.
Whilst many couples may still wish to have their ceremony indoors, this change demonstrates a step in the right direction for providing couples with greater choice and freedom in how they wish to host their ‘big day’.
Looking to the future, the Law Commission is due to produce a report later in the year presenting further options for reform for the Government to consider. Suggestions thus far include expanding the locations ceremonies can take place at and allowing remote weddings in times of a national emergency.
Julia Norris is a Trainee Solicitor in Hanne & Co’s Family & Divorce Law Department.