All marriages which take place in the UK must be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act 1949, as amended. Both people must be of the minimum legal age, must not be related to each other in a way that is forbidden by the law, must be of sufficiently sound mind to understand the nature of the marriage contract, and must be acting by their own consent.
If a marriage is carried out overseas it can be recognised as a valid marriage under UK family law. There is a presumption that if a couple goes through a ceremony of marriage, and thereafter live together as man and wife, the marriage is valid. However, this is a reputable presumption. The marriage must therefore meet various conditions to be valid under UK family law.
The fundamental requirement is that the marriage ceremony must be recognised as a valid form of marriage by the law of the country where the marriage took place. It must have been properly executed so as to satisfy the requirements of the law of the country in which it took place. There must not be anything in the law of either party’s country of domicile restricting their freedom to enter the marriage. Any previous marriage of either party must first have been validly terminated in the eyes of UK family law.
You cannot simply register an overseas ceremony at a register office. However, you can apply to have your documents sent from the relevant country and deposited with the General Register Office (GRO), creating a record of your overseas marriage. You need to get the original documents, or certified copies, issued by the foreign authority.
A court can make a declaration as to the validity of a marriage. If you are unsure whether your marriage will be legally recognised, you can petition a court for a declaration of status under Section 55 of the Family Law Act 1986. You can also get a Certificate of No Impediment from the authorities in the country you want to get married in to confirm that there are no objections to your proposed marriage.
If you are concerned about the validity of your overseas marriage, you should get in touch with a specialist family solicitor. The recognition of your marriage can have important legal and financial effects, and can affect the immigration status of you and your partner in the UK. Therefore, obtaining legal advice from a family solicitor is highly advisable.
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