This Commons Library briefing paper provides information about proposed changes to marriage registration which will enable details of both parents of each of the parties to a marriage to be included on a marriage certificate (and not just fathers' details, as at present)

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This briefing paper deals with the law in England and Wales. Different legislation and marriage registration systems apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Current position

In England and Wales, the law requires all marriages to be registered once they have taken place. The system for registering marriages is currently paper-based. The prescribed particulars to be registered for a marriage include details of the father but not the mother of each of the parties to a marriage.

Marriage registration to change

Calls have been made, both inside and outside of Parliament, for the law to be changed to enable the details of both parents of the parties to a marriage to be included on marriage certificates. The Government has expressed willingness to reform the law.

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 (the Act) began as a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Tim Loughton (Conservative) and received Royal Assent on 23 March 2019. Section 1 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations with the intention of changing the way in which marriages are registered in England and Wales – from a paper-based system to registration in an electronic register.

The change to an electronic system will enable the form and content of the marriage register entry to be amended to include, for example, the details of both parents of the couple, without having to replace all 84,000 marriage register books currently in use. Tim Loughton said that it would “make the system more secure and efficient, and it will make it simpler to amend the content of the marriage entry, both now and in the future”.

The basis of the proposed new system is that the parties will sign a marriage schedule document instead of signing the marriage register book. The schedule will then be returned to the register office for the marriage to be registered in an electronic register maintained by the Registrar General.

Those marrying in the Church of England or Church in Wales will still be able to marry by ecclesiastical preliminaries, i.e. banns, common licence or Archbishop of Canterbury’s Special Licence. However, the member of the clergy will issue a “marriage document”, similar to the schedule issued by the superintendent registrar, which is to be taken to the marriage and signed by the couple, their witnesses and the member of the clergy. The couple will be responsible for returning the signed marriage document to the register office.

In all cases, it is intended that a marriage certificate could be issued from the electronic register by registration officials when the marriage has been registered.

When will the changes be implemented?

The detail of the new marriage registration scheme will be set out in regulations which have not yet been published. The timing of the regulations is not yet known.

The regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, meaning that they require the approval of both Houses of Parliament to become law.

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