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Marriages, civil partnerships and a family wedding

An interesting article in The Spectator  about the latest trend in marriage caught my eye this morning. It’s quite a prescient subject for me, coming as it does in the week my son finally took the plunge and married his fiancée and partner of some five years.

The run-up to their weddings (yes, in the plural) has been filled with long months of planning. First off the civil ceremony, here in Harrogate, North Yorkshire,on Sunday. Then followed, a week later, a religious ceremony at the Great Synagogue in Florence, Italy. Not that anyone wanted two ceremonies, but the law is clear.

A Jewish religious marriage is legally binding from both a civil and religious perspective in this country, but in Italy, religious ceremonies of all denominations do not create a legally binding marriage from a civil perspective. As such, because it’s not legally binding upon my son and future daughter-in-law in Italy, it’s not legal here.

I know that this couple didn’t particularly want to get married in a registry office at all. They wanted to simply marry in a religious ceremony in Italy. But once they’d recognised the need for a civil ceremony of some kind over here, they both said they would have much preferred to enter into a civil partnership, where no vows are required and the legally binding declaration is made simply in writing and then signed by both parties.

It’s quite wrong in my view that civil partnerships are not available for opposite sex couples while gay couples can choose either marriage or civil partnership as they wish. Personally I think this imbalance should be corrected. My son’s situation provides one very valid reason for their use by all couples, same sex or opposite sex, and with the ever increasing numbers choosing to marry not only in Europe but in some dream destination across the world, I think demand will only intensify.

There’s this too.  Section 1 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, restricts civil partnerships to same-sex couples. Is it incompatible with Article 14 (read with Article 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights? There is at least one case currently proceeding through the courts based on this very point. It reaches the Court of Appeal in November 2016.

But so far as glamorous marriages go though, I often see gorgeous photos in dream destinations and the first thought that goes through my lawyer’s brain isn’t how beautiful they all look (although that’s usually the third thought). Rather I think “Oh golly, that’s surely not legally binding” and the second thought is “… should I say something?” My swift answer to myself, is of course, no, best let sleeping dogs lie.

But if anyone does have a concern about the validity of a wedding – don’t panic. It probably is valid….but do check if you haven’t done so already. Amongst the many cases I have been involved with was one in which the client had been married by an Elvis impersonator on a helicopter flying over the Grand Canyon! Was that legal? Yes! By contrast, another client who had been through only one marriage ceremony in a French church but no civil service was not legally married – but in the end the marriage was declared valid anyway because neither party had known of the requirement. Was a third client legally married on a beach in Hawaii? Yes. Ditto in Bali? No. That couple went through a charade and they both knew it.

The same problem can arise with marriages in this country too. The law is very confusing at times and has in fact not been amended since the Marriage Acts of 1836 and 1949. Weddings in some religious faiths are binding in civil law while others are not. It can all depend on where the marriage took place, who supervised the marriage, what kind of ceremony it was and whether notice requirements were satisfied. The Law Commission is currently considering whether to propose legal reforms in this area and I hope they do. If they do they may take into account a comment by the clerk at the Registry Office who told me of the many problems they have with other countries who refuse to accept the validity of a marriage not conducted at the local Town Hall.

I’ve been to weddings where I’ve not known the bride and groom at all, rather I have just known their parents. And then at the ceremony I’ve had the dreadful feeling this marriage is just not going to last. Let me quickly add that that hasn’t happened often – on maybe just a handful of occasions, but so far I’ve never been wrong!

Sometimes you can detect a certain subtle negativity in the way the bride and groom respond to each other. A bride might sit staring into space, for example, when her groom is speaking. On another occasion though, at the most stunning of weddings, in the most stunning of surroundings, where no one could have been more elegant, it was the impact of the appalling, horrendous speech by the best man about the groom and the steely look on the face of the bride’s father.  I knew at that moment that the marriage was utterly doomed. And so it proved.

On the other hand I’ve been to weddings which have had catastrophe written all over them – a blizzard blowing in; the bride getting her feet and dress soaked in the snow; the buffet food arriving in the drifts hours late; the groom and his mother both telling the best man to sit down as he wittered blindly on all about himself…actually come to think of it, all that happened at my own wedding and 35 years later we’re still together and still laughing about it!

Marriage continues, despite all the naysayers and predictions of extinction. Numbers might be falling but that doesn’t persuade me that marriage is on the way out. The Spectator article today discusses the extraordinary rise of ‘sologamy’ or marrying yourself. Apparently this is a growing trend amongst women in the Nordic countries, the UK, Netherlands and the USA who can’t or don’t want to marry another human being. If you wish to be a sologamist, there is a wedding package for the cost of £2,500 in Kyoto, Japan. There you can marry yourself and it includes a neat little wedding package for one. No comment.

And if that wasn’t out there enough, there are also a few unusual souls who dispense with humanity altogether and instead marry almost anything: a snake, a dolphin, a rock, a sandwich and of course the obvious choice –a roller coaster.

A few years ago Lord Wilson, he of “The Supremes” fame, gave a speech in support of gay marriage,  entitled Marriage is made for man, not man for marriage. I agree. I don’t think from all I’ve experienced, all I’ve read, all I’ve seen over my career that the institution of marriage is dying, although I did propose the opposite argument at the Oxford Union! Rather the nature of marriage itself is changing and evolving, and we as a society are changing and evolving alongside it.

Personally I’m thrilled my son and his fiancée have sealed their marriage at the Great Synagogue in Florence. I recently came across a photo of a very young-looking husband and myself in 1986 standing outside that magnificent building on the first of our many trips to Florence.

Little did we know that 30 years later we would be back for the best reason in the world- to walk our son down the aisle, with the bride and her parents all set to take part in a  marriage ceremony that has remained unchanged for 2,000 years, under a chuppah: a canopy bedecked with flowers.

It’s been interesting comparing the formalities required for a civil and religious ceremony but from a family perspective a great deal of fun too.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Devil's Advocate says:

    Not to redirect the argument, such parity injustices is valid Marilyn by a parent too. An assumption if rights as a parent is not a legal right.

    Now it is affecting your emotions perhaps you van now be bonded emotionally to the fact that both parents of a child should have legal rights to comprehensive engagement with their children. Not just the good old Strasbourg Accord.

    Wow, perhaps you may become the first Solicitor to support such a progressive welfare reform joining the only two Parliamentarians in the UK, both by moral precedent and one by party manifesto policy!

  2. Andy says:

    Basically the law has not or have the ability to support trends in today’s society with multiple and religious marriages but hides behind old laws that suite. “If the cap fits so to speak”.
    As the current British legal system is so far out of touch in such areas as marriage..
    No wonder marriages are on the decline due to inaccuracies, assumptions and injustices when things go wrong…And that’s just the start..
    So if one ceremony is conducted in the British way of life and one ceremony is conducted in another country when things go wrong what country will have the authority to decide…
    Many chose the British way as and this is because the female will get better reward and full support..

    If it was me..I would not get married and since no cohabitation laws are strong enough at present it a better way….

  3. Andrew says:

    And why did and I and why will your future son-in-law smash the glass under our heel?
    Because it’s the last time we can put our foot down!
    Joking apart, sologamous (although I would prefer “autogamous”) ceremonies leave me laughing. A fool and his money are soon parted and far be it from me to stand in the way of the money or the fool.
    And I hope the Law Commission stands firm on the position that every marriage in this jurisdiction must be the subject of prior notice to the Registrar (Anglican civil preliminaries such as banns being a historical hangover that the rest of us can live with); of proper celebration under the Marriage Acts; and of subsequent registration with the civil Registrar. And if that does not happen there is no marriage, not even a void marriage.
    Andy: jurisdiction in divorce is a complicated area but where the ceremony took place is irrelevant.

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