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Getting married in Scotland

Marriage is one of the longest running institutions in the UK. It crosses many cultures and allows for a variety of ceremonies to acknowledge the union of two people. But how does UK law regulate the process of getting married and leading to the legally recognised union of two people.

All couples can get married or form a civil partnership in the UK if they are:

  • 16 or over

  • free to marry (ie not already married or in a civil partnership)

  • not closely related

  • capable of understanding what marriage means and of consenting to a marriage

You do not need parental consent to marry if you are over 16 in Scotland. If you are from England and Wales and between 16 and 18, you can come to Scotland to get married.

Anyone under the age of 16 can't legally get married in the UK. 

Some relatives aren't allowed to marry and any attempt to marry will make the marriage automatically void. If there is a degree of affinity or they are blood relatives, they will not be allowed to marry. A person cannot marry any of the following relatives:

  • a child, including an adopted child

  • a parent, including an adoptive parent

  • a brother or sister, including a half-brother or half-sister

  • a parent's brother or sister, including a half-brother or half-sister

  • a grandparent

  • a grandchild

  • a brother's or sister's, including half-brother's or half-sister's, child

In Scotland you may also not marry the following relatives by affinity:

  • a parent’s former spouse or civil partner

  • a grandparent’s former spouse or civil partner

  • a former spouse’s or civil partner’s child

  • a former spouse’s or civil partner’s grandchild

Adopted children may not marry their genetic parents or adoptive parents, but they are allowed to marry the rest of their adoptive family, including adoptive brothers or sisters. 

Same-sex couples can now legally marry in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Same-sex couples who marry abroad under foreign law are recognised as being married in the UK. 

Same-sex couples can either opt for same-sex marriage or civil partnerships. A recent Supreme Court ruling has found in favour of opposite-sex couples forming a civil partnership.  Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples can now enter into civil partnerships. 

If a same-sex couple have previously formed a civil partnership (ie before same-sex marriage was legalised in 2014), in the UK, they can convert their civil partnership into a recognised marriage. The costs and procedures for doing so differ slightly between England & Wales and Scotland.

A transgendered person can marry someone of the opposite gender or same gender to their acquired gender. A transgendered person will need to apply for and have been granted a full gender recognition certificate by the Gender Recognition Panel. This will reflect their true gender and will be able to marry whomever they so want. Without this certificate, they are legally considered to be the gender they were assigned with at birth.

In the UK, opposite-sex couples can marry in a civil or religious ceremony. Same-sex couples can get married in a civil ceremony. Same-sex couples can only marry in a religious ceremony if the religious organisation has agreed to carry out same-sex weddings.

Civil marriages

In Scotland the couple wishing to have a civil marriage ceremony must give notice of their marriage to the district registrar in the area in which they are intending to marry before it can proceed. You must give no more than 3 months’ and no less than 28 days’ notice before you intend to marry. Proof of name, age, nationality and address will be required in order to be able to effectively submit notice. In the case of parties who are divorced or widowed, proof of divorce or death certificate are needed.

This notice of intention to marry will be publicly displayed for 28 days before you can get married, during which time anyone with strong grounds for objecting to the marriage is able to do so. After the 28 days, you are free to marry within 3 months from the date the notices were received by the registrar. 

After 28 days, but no earlier than 7 days before the date of the marriage, the registrar can issue a marriage schedule (this is the initial record of the marriage). The district register will keep this schedule until the marriage.

The civil ceremony can then take place in a registrar's office or in any other appropriate location (other than religious premises) which the couple and the registration authority have agreed upon (eg a home or on a hillside). The marriage will be conducted by the district registrar (who is appointed by the Registrar General). Two witnesses over the age of 16 must be present at the ceremony and must sign the marriage schedule.

Religious marriages

Partners getting married in a religious (or belief) ceremony are allowed to register a marriage at the same time as performing the religious ceremony.

Couples getting married in a religious (or belief) ceremony in Scotland must follow the same notice process as those getting married in a civil ceremony. 

The couple wishing to get married must give notice of their marriage to the district registrar in the area in which they are intending to marry before it can proceed. You must give no more than 3 months’ and no less than 28 days’ notice before you intend to marry. Proof of name, age, nationality and address will be required in order to be able to effectively submit notice. In the case of parties who are divorced or widowed, proof of divorce or death certificate are needed.

This notice of intention to marry will be publicly displayed for 28 days before you can get married, during which time anyone with strong grounds for objecting to the marriage is able to do so. After the 28 days, you are free to marry within 3 months from the date the notices were received by the registrar. 

After 28 days, but no earlier than 7 days before the date of the marriage, the registrar can issue a marriage schedule (this is the initial record of the marriage). The marriage schedule acts as a licence allowing the celebrant to marry you and thus either yourself or your partner must collect this marriage schedule from the registrar’s office in person. 

A religious (or belief) ceremony must be conducted by someone who is an approved celebrant. A list of approved celebrants in the area on which you are planning to get married should be available at every district registrar. 

A religious (or belief) wedding can take place anywhere provided the couple and the approved celebrant agreed on it. Vows will then be exchanged between the couples and once completed the couple will need to sign the marriage schedule in the presence of two witnesses over the age of 16. The signed marriage schedule must then be returned to the district registrar within 3 days of the marriage.

What is the difference between civil and religious ceremonies?

Religious weddings generally need to take place in churches, chapels or other registered religious buildings, conducted by the relevant religious officials and in accordance with the specific religious rules and procedures. For example, same-sex couples are not allowed to get married in an Anglican church.

Civil ceremonies can take place in a register office, any venue approved by the local council and certain religious premises. Normally they are performed by a registrar. Although a civil ceremony may include music and readings, it must not include anything of a religious nature (such as hymns or readings from a religious text).

In the UK, both opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships. Registering a civil partnership is similar to marrying in a civil ceremony and involves giving notice of the intention to enter into a civil partnership and registering the civil partnership.

Giving notice

Both parties wishing to enter into a civil partnership will need to give notice in person of their intention to register a civil partnership to the local register for the area where they wish to register the civil partnership. There is no minimum length of residence in Scotland for a couple who wishes to form a civil partnership in Scotland. 

You must give at least 28 days' notice at your register office which should include details of where you intend to form a civil partnership. The notice will be publicly displayed, during which time anyone with strong grounds for objecting to the civil partnership is able to do so. Proof of name, age, nationality and address will be required in order to be able to effectively submit notice. In the case of parties who are divorced or widowed, proof of divorce or death certificate are needed.

Registration

Once the 28 days have passed and there are no objections, the civil partnership can be registered. The register office will give you a civil partnership schedule which you will need to register your partnership. You generally need to register your civil partnership within 12 months of giving notice.

A civil partnership can be registered by either a district or assistant registrar or a religious or belief celebrant who's been authorised by the registrar general (provided the the religious or belief body has agreed to register civil partnerships).

Where the civil partnership is being registered by a registrar, this can take place in any registration office or at any other place that the registration authority agrees to, except for religious premises. 

If your civil partnership is going to be registered by a religious or belief celebrant, this can take place anywhere agreed by you and your celebrant.

Any venue that has been approved to hold civil marriages automatically also has approval to register civil partnerships. Non-religious venues that hold weddings cannot choose not to hold civil partnerships. On the other hand, religious premises are not required to host civil partnership ceremonies. 

Your civil partnership has legally been registered when you and your partner have signed the civil partnership schedule. This must be done in front of a registrar and two witnesses over the age of 16.

Please note that if a civil partnership is being registered by a religious or belief celebrant, the civil partnership schedule must be returned to the district registrar within 3 days of the civil partnership (to be registered in the civil partnership register).

While not a legal requirement you can arrange for a ceremony in addition to the registration process. If you would like a ceremony, you should contact the local registrar or your religious or belief celebrant to find out what arrangements can be made.

If either party is outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and subject to immigration control, they will generally need to obtain a visa to give notice and get married. Take a look at the GOV.UK website for comprehensive information about getting married if either spouse is a foreign national.

Forced marriages are where an individual is pressured into marrying someone against their will. It is illegal in the and a criminal offence in the UK. Anyone who is at risk of being forcibly married or know of someone who is should contact the Forced Marriage Unit for advice or, in an emergency, the police. 

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