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Family Law

Make Sure You Marry Right

Thinking of getting married in a foreign country?  This may seem an attractive alternative, but make sure you do it right.  You certainly do not want to find out, years down the line, that in actual fact you were never married under English law.

English courts will only recognise a foreign marriage as valid if it complied with the formalities prescribed by the law of the country where the ceremony was performed.  The concept seems simple enough, but different countries often have different requirements.  So, for example, if you were to elect a Hindu ceremony in Bali, it must be in accordance with local Indonesian law in force at that time.

If you want to be certain that you are going the right way about it, a sensible option would be to check with the embassy of the relevant country in advance of the ceremony to ensure there is time to put the essential formalities in place.  If you should have any doubt, it would also be prudent to register your marriage at the General Register Office upon your return to the UK.  You then have a formal record of your overseas marriage should you need it in the future.

It must be borne in mind that the legal consequences for a couple whose marriage is classified as void under English law are the same as those for an unmarried cohabiting couple.  This is particularly so in relation to any financial settlement, which could be complicated should you come to separate.  For example, when Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall brought an end to their marriage, they discovered their Bali ceremony was null and void.  In order for their marriage to be valid under English law, they needed to comply with local Indonesian law at the time the marriage was registered.  Their union would still have been valid if it had been recognised by the local community.  However, since neither of them were Balinese Hindus, no such recognition existed.  As a result, Jerry received a settlement of £10m rather than the £30m she would have claimed had their marriage been valid.

It may also have an effect on your children’s legitimacy.  Married fathers automatically have legal status of “Parental Responsibility”, whereas unmarried fathers may need to take additional steps to obtain this especially if their children were born before 1 December 2003.

So, if you plan to marry abroad take care to ensure that your marriage will be recognised here upon your return.  Please also see our link about Islamic divorce and International disputes.

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