Wedding Legalities

In days gone by, the law was such that in Scotland couples over the age of sixteen could marry ,without parental consent, simply by declaring themselves man and wife in front of witnesses. In 1940, however an Act of Parliament ruled that marriages were only legal if conducted by a Minister of Religion or an authorised Registrar.

Please note the following offers information as general guidance only: it should not be treated as a complete and authoritative statement of the law. Further advice may be obtained from The General Register Office for Scotland at www.nrscotland.gov.uk or, The Registrar’s Office in Glasgow by phoning 0141 287 7655/ 8350 if your marriage is to take place within Glasgow Registration District.

Who can be Married in Scotland?

Any two persons who are at least 16 years of age on the day of their marriage, regardless of where they live, may marry in Scotland provided that:

  • they are unmarried and not in a civil partnership (any person who has already been married must produce documentary evidence that the previous marriage has been ended by death, divorce or annulment)
  • they are capable of understanding the nature of a marriage ceremony and of consenting to marriage
  • the marriage would be regarded as valid in any foreign country to which either party belongs
  • they are not related to one another in a way which may impede them from marrying
  • details of forbidden degrees of relationship are listed in the leaflet RM1 (Marriage in Scotland) which is available from any Registrar of births, deaths and marriages in Scotland or from The General Register Office for Scotland at www.nrscotland.gov.uk

Types of Marriage

You can be married in three ways in Scotland – by a Religious Ceremony, a Civil Ceremony or a Humanist Ceremony:

  • A Religious Marriage, whether Christian or non-Christian, may take place anywhere and be solemnised only by a Minister, Clergyman, Pastor, Priest or other person entitled to do so under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977. It should be mentioned though that different Churches and individual Clergymen may have their own views on performing a Ceremony outside a Church.
  • A Civil Marriage may be solemnised only by a Registrar or an Assistant Registrar who has been authorised by the Registrar General for that purpose, and may take place in a Registration Office or at an Approved Glasgow Venue.
  • Since June 2005 in Scotland, Humanist Ceremonies have been legally binding in Scotland. Scotland is one of only six countries in the world where Humanist marriage ceremonies are legal (the others are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and certain states of the USA). Humanist Weddings have the same legal status as Civil and Religious Weddings as long as they are conducted by a celebrant who has been authorized by the Registrar General of Scotland, and can take place anywhere ‘safe and dignified’.

Please note: Civil Partnerships will continue to be available to same-sex couples and same-sex couples will also be able to have a religious or belief Civil Partnership where the religious or belief body has sought and obtained authorisation for its celebrants to register Civil Partnerships.

The Government intends to consult soon on the future of Civil Partnerships in Scotland. The Government has made it clear that existing Civil Partnerships can remain and there will be no obligation on existing civil partners to change their relationship into a marriage if they do not wish to do so.

How and when to give notice

You need to obtain a marriage notice form, and can get information about fees, from any Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in Scotland. Marriage Notice Forms can be downloaded at The General Register Office for Scotland at www.gro-scotland.gov.uk or, contact The Registrar’s Office in Glasgow by phoning 0141 287 7655/ 8350 if your marriage is to take place within Glasgow Registration District area.

Both of you must complete a marriage notice, along with the required documents as detailed below, and submit these and the appropriate fee, to the Registrar for the District in which the marriage is to take place.

The notices must be submitted early enough to enable the Registrar to be satisfied that you are free to marry one another. As of the 2nd March 2015 the notice period for getting married changed from 15 days to 28 days and affects all couples in the UK hoping to be married or enter a civil partnership. The changes are designed to give the Home Office more time to investigate potential sham Marriages and Civil Partnerships, but of course have implications for genuine couples hoping to marry.

Although you need not attend personally at the Registrar’s Office to hand in your marriage notice, at least one of the parties must attend person­ally before the date of the marriage.This is necessary, in the case of a Religious Marriage, to collect the Marriage Schedule or, in the case of a Civil Marriage, to finalise arrangements with the Registrar who will need further information before the Marriage can proceed.

Every person giving notice is required to sign a declaration to the effect that the particulars and information given on the notice are correct.  As a safeguard against bigamous marriages, a subsequent check of the information is made centrally by The General Register Office for Scotland.

Non-UK Citizens

Please note the following for non-UK citizens, although all information should be verified with The General Register Office for Scotland as being accurate and up-to-date at the time of your Wedding:

  • If you are from outside the British Isles the Registrar may ask to see your valid passport or other document allowing you to be in the country.
  • If you are visiting the UK to be married and you are a citizen of a country that is not a member of the European Economic Area, you will need to apply for a visa before you travel. If you do not get a visa the Registrar will not be able to accept your notice and you will not be able to marry in the UK. Obtaining a visa should be straight forward. For more information visit the UK Visas website,or contact your nearest British Embassy, Consulate or High Commission for advice.
  • If, being domiciled in a country outside the UK, you are subject to the marriage laws of that country, you should obtain if practicable a certificate issued by the competent authority (usually the civil authority) in that country to the effect that there is no impediment to your proposed marriage. If the certificate is in a language other than English, you should also produce a certified translation. In the absence of such a certificate without good reason being shown, it may not be possible for you to marry in Scotland. If you are now resident in the UK and have lived here for the last two years or more you need not submit such a certificate.
  • If you are already in the UK, and you are a citizen of a country that is not a member of the European Economic Area, you will need the approval of the Home Secretary to be married here. This will be provided in the form of a certificate of approval.  For more information visit the Home Office website, call the Immigration and Nationality Enquiry Bureau on 0870 606 7766 or write to Immigration and Nationality Directorate, Lunar House, 40 Wellesley Road, Croydon CR9 2BY.

If you are in any doubt about what is required, or if you require further information, you should consult the Registrar.

Documentation to be produced

When giving or sending the marriage notice forms to the Registrar, each of you must supply the following:

  • your birth certificate
  • if you have been married before and the marriage was dissolved, a certificate of divorce or annulment or a certified copy decree. A decree of divorce granted outwith Scotland must be absolute or final – a decree nisi is not acceptable if you are a widow or widower, the death certificate of your former spouse
  • if your domicile is abroad, a certificate of no impediment issued by the competent authority to the effect that you are free to marry. If any of these documents is in a language other than English, a certified translation in English must also be provided

Do not delay giving notice simply because you are waiting for any of the documents mentioned above to be available to you. If time is getting short it is better to give notice first and then pass the documents to the Regis­trar when they become available, but they must be made available to the Registrar before the marriage. Provided the documents are in order, the marriage can proceed as arranged.

Making arrangements for the Marriage Ceremony

It’s Important to make early arrangements for the date and time of your Wedding Day. This is particularly important in towns and cities, where large numbers of people want to be married at certain times of the year.

If you are having a Religious ceremony, go and see the Minister, Priest or Clergyman who is to celebrate the Wedding service before completing the notice of marriage.

For a Civil or Humanist marriage make advance arrangements with the Registrar.

Arrange for two persons, aged 16 years or over, to be present at your marriage to act as witnesses. They are required whether it is a Religious or Civil ceremony.

Be sure to let the Clergyman, Registrar or Celebrant know if you change your plans or decide to postpone your Wedding date.

The Marriage Schedule

When the Registrar is satisfied there is no legal impediment to the marriage a Marriage Schedule will be prepared from the information you have given. The Schedule is a most important document – no marriage can proceed without it.

  • If you are having a Religious Wedding the Marriage Schedule will be issued to you by the Registrar. The Schedule cannot be issued more than seven days before the marriage and the Registrar will advise you when to call. The Schedule cannot be collected on your behalf by a relative or friend – the Registrar will issue it only to the prospective Bride or Bridegroom. The Marriage Schedule must be produced before the marriage ceremony to the Clerygyman performing the marriage. Immediately after the Ceremony the Schedule must be signed by both parties, by the person performing the marriage and by the two witnesses. Thereafter, it must be returned to the Registrar within three days in order to register the marriage.
  • If you are having a Civil marriage, a Marriage Schedule will not be issued but the Registrar will have it available at the marriage ceremony for signature. Subsequently the marriage will be registered. A fee for the Civil marriage is payable to the Registrar in advance.

Marriage Certificate

After the marriage has been registered you can obtain copies of the marriage certificate from the Registrar on payment of the appropriate fee.

If you live in England or Wales

As an alternative, you may give notice of marriage to the superintendent Registrar in the district of England or Wales in which you reside. The person you are marrying should, however, give notice in Scotland in the usual way. You should seek the advice of the superintendent registrar if you wish to proceed in this way. The certificate for marriage obtained from him should be sent to the Scottish Registrar as quickly as possible.

Please note: This information gives general guidance only and was accurate at the time of publishing. This should not however, be treated as a complete and authoritative statement of the law.