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The validay of religious marriages in English law

View profile for Nina Lake
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Congratulations! You are engaged! It is now time to make your plans for the big celebrations. There is obviously a lot to think about – outfits, decorations, food. But what about the venue for the actual ceremony? Have you always envisaged your wedding taking place at your local place of worship, a garden wedding at your in-laws or perhaps a big lavish hotel? One thing that should be at the forefront of your mind at this time is, whatever your celebratory plans may be, ensuring that your marriage is recognised by the law of England and Wales.

Many people believe that once they have had their religious ceremony in this county, they are also legally married. Unfortunately with many marriages this is not the case and unless the venue where the religious ceremony took place is registered for the solemnisation of marriage under the law of England and Wales, no legally binding marriage will have been formed.

When this poses a problem, many couples will have two separate events with the religious marriage taking place one day and a civil marriage taking place on another. Others will find a venue where they can conduct both their religious and civil ceremonies on the same day. Both are an effective way of ensuring that you are entering into a binding marriage in the eyes of the law.

Some people might not be too worried about whether or not their marriage is legal in this country, and are much more concerned about the religious side to their big day, or alternatively hold the belief that they will become ‘common law husband and wife’ with the same rights as married couples if they are married for a number of years. This attitude is dangerous. There is no such thing as a common law marriage in the UK. If a couple are not legally wed then they will be seen by the Courts as being mere cohabitees which means that there rights depart significantly from those of a married couple upon separation or death of one of the parties.

An example of how horribly wrong things can go is shown by the story of Shaheeda Khan (whose name was changed to protect her identity) which you may have read about in the news a couple of years ago. Shaheeda married her fiancé in a traditional Islamic religious ceremony, the Nikah, at her home in Birmingham. Not long after the wedding, the couple moved to London where Shaheeda decided to enrol to study at University. She was asked to show her marriage certificate during this process, and it was at this point she realised that she did not have one. She asked her husband to register their marriage but he refused and a few months later she returned to the family home to find that she had been locked out and thrown out of her own home. Despite trying to pursue legal action, as the couple were not legally married, Shaheeda got nothing. Shaheeda was forced to move back home with her family.

The devastating affects of not having a valid marriage in the UK if you do ever want to separate or if one of you dies can be terrible, as highlighted by Shaheeda’s story. It is therefore really important to check when planning your wedding to not only be mindful of the religious venue in which you wish to be married, but to also ensure that the venue is registered for the solemnisation of marriage under the law of England and Wales or alternatively that you arrange a separate ceremony in an appropriate venue which is.