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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

24 DEC 2012

Marriage: a modest proposal

John Eekelaar

Emeritus Fellow, Pembroke College, Oxford

An attempt to include a Scientologist chapel among buildings registered for the purposes of solemnisation of marriage has drawn attention to the law relating to entering into marriage in England and Wales. In 1973 the Law Commission considered the law to fall 'woefully short' in simplicity and intelligibility, and since then it has become more complicated with the power given to local authorities by the Marriage Act 1994 to 'approve' venues for civil marriage. This creates an artificial division between religious and secular marriages, and encourages an unseemly commercialisation of marriage while failing sufficiently to enable people to establish their marriage in the form most meaningful to them. While one solution might be to require a civil marriage in all cases, on the continental model, the proposal suggests that it would be preferable to improve the existing approach. Logically this should allow parties to effect their marriage by any form, and in any place, they choose provided their agreement is attested by witnesses, and that they have given notice beforehand. Giving notice would be a serious occasion for checking eligibility, ensuring as far as possible that motivation and consent is genuine, and providing relevant information.

The full version of this article appears in the January 2013 issue of Family Law.

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