Following legislation this week the age of consent for marriage is changing to 18.
The way we marry is changing. The impact of the fall in marriage rate has led to proposed changes about where we can marry and what type of service we can have. The law has also recently changed relating to the age of consent to marry.
Change In Age Legislation
In February 2023 the introduction of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act changed the age at which we can marry. The law raises the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 years old in England and Wales. You can no longer legally marry or enter into a civil partnership if you are 16 or 17 – even if your parents’ consent.
The aim of this change is to protect children from forced marriage. Previously, a forced marriage was only a criminal offence if there was an element of coercion. Coercion could be physical e.g. threats of harm or psychological coercion such as bringing shame to a family.
It is now a criminal offence to cause a child in any circumstances to marry before the age of 18 whether or not that child agrees to marry and/or their parents do. The criminal offence is punishable by up to 7 years in prison. The definition of what constitutes a forced marriage is wide and includes for example a religious ceremony or blessing not recognised either in the UK or overseas as a valid contract of marriage.
Removing The Need For Venues To Be Licensed
In 2022 the Law Commission published research into modernising the way in which we marry. Their report arose in part from criticism of the decision made by the Court of Appeal in 2020 in the case of Mr Akhter and Ms Khan. This case raised many issues about the law relating to weddings, most of which dates back to 1836, as being out of touch with the diversity of modern day living in England and Wales.
Mr Akhter and Ms Khan entered into an Islamic Nikah ceremony in 1998 in a London restaurant before a large gathering of family and friends. They then lived together for 20 years as man and wife and had 4 children together. Mr Akhter refused to attend at a civil registry office to confirm the religious blessing of a Nikah, but he had relied upon the Nikah as evidence of his marriage to gain entry into UAE to work and live. Ms Khan argued that there was a marriage, but it was not valid, and so she should be able to take advantage of nullity proceedings and make financial claims against Mr Akhter. Mr Akhter said there was no marriage at all.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Mr Akhter in 2020 that the Nikah blessing in the restaurant was not any sort of marriage at all and refused to permit Ms Khan access to nullity proceedings and financial claims against Mr Akhter.
The Law Commission report addresses the circumstances of this case by recommending changes to the law. It’s proposed that the official conducting the ceremony of marriage will be regulated and the current requirement for a licensed venue will be removed. This change will offer greater flexibility as to the choice of ceremony and venue. A formal Government response to this report is awaited, although it is anticipated that legislation will follow.
An Increase In Couples Living Together
The pandemic in 2020/2021 created a backlog of weddings and the need to license some outdoor venues because of covid restrictions. The licensing of some outdoor venues was granted on a temporary basis, and this has now been made permanent and is hoped will offer flexibility and a cheaper option in some instances.
Post pandemic almost 60% of adults aged 30-34 are not married. The cost, limited choice of venue and type of ceremony can lead to a decision that weddings are out of date and not worth the money they cost.
The Impact Of Some Of These Changes
As the number of couples living together but not marrying increases, it’s more important than ever to consider entering into a contract to regulate the way in which you intend to deal with division of property, assets and income when you separate. Such a contract, called a Cohabitation Agreement is particularly important if the family home is registered in one person’s name and you have children together and want to make sure they will have a home if you separate.
If you intend to marry, as the laws change relating to venue and ceremony it is advisable to think about a pre-nuptial agreement.
If you need advice or guidance to ensure you are protected legally if you separate and are living together, please don’t hesitate to contact Silk Family Law.