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Getting it right when marrying abroad

Sarah Crilly, Associate in the Family Law team, looks at what you need to consider when getting married overseas.

For many, getting married abroad seems an attractive alternative to a big UK wedding.

Getting married in an exotic location, with guaranteed good weather and combining your ceremony with your honeymoon may seem to be a cost effective choice. But what if you discovered years down the line, that in actual fact you never were married under English law?

In order for an overseas marriage to be valid under English law, it has to be valid in the country it was celebrated.

This may seem straightforward enough, but different countries often have different requirements.

For example, if you were to get married just over the channel in France, you would need to ensure the civil ceremony took place prior to the religious ceremony – not all countries are like the UK where Christian and legal ceremonies can take place at the same time.

Couples need to ensure that they have complied with the exact requirements of the relevant country.

You may have instructed a company to deal with all of the legalities for you, but it would still be sensible to check with the embassy of the relevant country well in advance of the ceremony to ensure there is time to put the essential formalities in place.

It would also be a good idea upon your return to the UK to register your marriage at the General Register Office.

Once this has been carried out, there is a formal record of your overseas marriage should you need proof of this in the future.

So what are the consequences should you discover your dream ‘marriage’ in actual fact never was?

Basically, you potentially are in the same position as unmarried cohabiting couples. This is unless one party can obtain a decree of nullity in circumstances where there was a lack of consent as a result of duress, mistake or unsoundness of mind.

There will be legal consequences therefore regarding your children’s legitimacy and financial implications, which could reduce your financial settlement.

For example, when Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall separated, they discovered that their Bali ceremony was invalid, as under the law of Bali one party to the marriage had to be a practising Hindu.

As they had not complied with Indonesian law, their marriage was not valid and this had an effect of Jerry’s financial settlement. It is reported she received a settlement of £10m rather than the £30m she would have claimed had there been a valid ceremony.

Polygamous marriages are not recognised in the UK, even if the ceremony was valid in the country it took place in and that country recognised multiple marriages.

In the UK marrying a second person without dissolving your previous marriage is the criminal offence of bigamy.

If you are planning to marry abroad you should ensure you are compliant with the necessary requirements of the country the ceremony will take place in so that your marriage is recognised when you return back home to the UK.

If you are unsure about the validity of your marriage, or want to ensure that your ceremony will be recognised in the UK, then you should obtain legal advice.

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