Documents to download

This briefing paper is no longer being updated. HM Passport Office guidance on GOV.UK, Marriage ceremonies (May 2021), includes information about the changes to marriage registration which took effect from 4 May 2021.

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 the marriage. 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 the marriage to be included on marriage certificates.

System of marriage registration to change

Subject to the approval of draft regulations which have been laid before Parliament, the Government intends that a new system of marriage registration will be implemented on 4 May 2021 and that the particulars to be registered for a marriage will be updated.

The proposed new system

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 began as a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Tim Loughton (Conservative) and received Royal Assent on 26 March 2019. Section 1 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations which amend the Marriage Act 1949 to reform the way in which marriages are registered in England and Wales – moving from a paper-based system to registration in an electronic register. The Government supported this provision.

The change to an electronic system would facilitate the amendment of the form and content of the marriage register entry 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 draft Registration of Marriages Regulations 2021

The draft Registration of Marriages Regulations 2021 (the Regulations) were laid before Parliament on 22 February 2021. A draft Explanatory Memorandum has also been published. The Regulations are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure and must be approved by both Houses of Parliament to become law.

The Regulations would amend the Marriage Act 1949 to enable the introduction of an electronic schedule system for marriage registration. The Registrar General would make further regulations to deal with (among other things) the information to be registered.

The basis of the proposed new system is that the parties would sign a marriage schedule issued by the superintendent registrar instead of signing the marriage register book. For marriages taking place in the Church of England and Church in Wales following ecclesiastical preliminaries, (e.g. the calling of banns or the issue of a common licence), the parties would sign a marriage document issued by the member of the clergy – this would be similar to the marriage schedule.

The marriage schedule or marriage document would contain all the information to be entered into the marriage register. At the marriage ceremony it would be signed by the couple, their witnesses and the person(s) officiating at the marriage and then delivered by the officiant to the register office for the marriage to be registered in an electronic register maintained by the Registrar General.


The Government intends that guidance for couples getting married will be published on the Gov.UK website before the new system is introduced. The General Register Office is also developing guidance for registration officials and religious bodies in England and Wales to be made available prior to implementation.

Documents to download

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