Getting married abroad

Family Law|March 1st 2017


In this regular column, Stowe Family Law solicitors answer readers’ questions on different legal issues.  Today’s query goes to Angela Sussens, a Partner in our Leeds office.

“My friend is planning to marry a lady from Thailand in her country and then settling back in England with her. How do we make sure the marriage will be recognised over here?”


Getting married or entering a civil partnership abroad is much more commonplace these days than it used to be.  It is easy to get lost in the excitement of pending nuptials and to overlook the need to ensure that all formalities are complied with, whether you are marrying abroad or in England. Each country has its own set of laws and procedural regulations that must be complied with to ensure that the marriage or civil partnership is valid and will be recognised in this country.

So it is important if you are planning to get married abroad that you have a full understanding of what procedural requirements must be complied with in good time before the ceremony. It is recommended that you contact the local authorities in Thailand (or whichever other country in which you may be planning to marry or enter a civil partnership), and find out just what you need to do. You may need to obtain official documents from the UK Government prior to your departure in order to proceed with the marriage overseas so it is important that you properly research what is needed before you get on the plane.

But provided you follow the correct procedure according to local law, the marriage or civil partnership should be recognised in the UK. Generally, English law recognises foreign marriages as long as they meet the following criteria:

  1. The ceremony must comply with the law of where the marriage takes place.
  2. Each party must have the capacity to enter into the marriage according to the law of the country in which they lived before the marriage.
  3. Any previous marriage of either party must firstly have been validly terminated – i.e. they must be legally divorced if they have previously married.

Getting married in England and Wales

But what about back home? To legally marry in England and Wales, it is necessary to adhere to the following regulations:

  1. You must give notice at your local register office.
  2. You must have a religious or civil ceremony, usually at least 28 days after giving notice, although there are some instances when the notice period can be reduced.

Following the ceremony, the parties, and two witnesses, are required to sign the marriage register or civil partnership document. Thereafter, it is necessary to register the marriage or civil partnership. A copy of the marriage or civil partnership certificate should be retained to prove your marital status in the future, although copies can be obtained if required.


Angela Sussens joined Stowe Family Law as a trainee solicitor back in 2004 and qualified in 2006. She has demonstrated an aptitude for all aspects of family law, and in particular financial settlements on divorce. Angela regularly acts on behalf of high net worth clients in complex cases involving foreign jurisdictions, trusts, companies and offshore assets.

Angela Sussens is a Partner at Stowe Family Law’s city centre office in Leeds. She has worked across all aspects of family law but has focused in particular on financial settlements following divorce. Angela regularly acts on behalf of high net worth clients in complex cases involving foreign jurisdictions, trusts, companies and offshore assets. Clients appreciate her attention to detail and her direct, straight to the point, approach.

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  1. Once Bitten says:

    You wouldn’t expect to hear this from a lawyer, and I hate to even broach the subject when the apparently happy time is fast approaching… but apart from all the legalities you should be aware that, among all the very sweet and lovely ladies from the Far East, there have been some, a relatively small percentage, who marry with the sole intention of separating their partner from his life savings in a divorce settlement, once they have got everything else they can get from the union.

    At the very least you should do TWO things right now, then.

    First, get to know your prospective partner VERY well, in a variety of situations. Well, you would do that with woman from a similar background, wouldn’t you? Only, in such a case it should be even more so. You wouldn’t normally rush into marriage with someone you barely know — and who of course barely knows you, your background, and culture — would you? (And if you find yourself saying to yourself, or others, “What could possibly go wrong??” — beware!)

    Secondly, while it may seem horribly cynical (for which I make no apologies, born of hard experience) if you haven’t already, you should Google for topics like “Thai and Filipino marriage scams”, of which, every year, there are a LOT. And ask yourself, “Could I be walking into such a situation?”

    Most likely you are NOT.

    But you should have both eyes open, not shut — and just HOPING that nothing goes wrong. (Perhaps trying to CYA by insisting on a pre-nup — which may or may not be successful, eventually.)

    Because you surely don’t want your friends to say to you, in 3, 4, 5 years time (or LESS!), “I told you so!” Because you are then in a divorce court, looking on in horror at a situation where, with all the other expenses connected with your upcoming marriage — and now your DIVORCE — at least HALF your life savings are about to be wrenched from you, in a cleverly-contrived “marriage scam”.

    Don’t laugh at the absurdity of this situation — sadly this is happening with ever-greater frequency in the Western world.

    But of course, I am not for one moment suggesting this is guaranteed to happen to YOU. Anyway, a marriage could break down, not from any cynical pre-planning by a street-smart schemer/scammer, but just from “cultural differences”. Or it could work out very well. It is just best to know the possible dangers beforehand.

    Because forewarned is forearmed.

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