The legal age for marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales is changing.
The age of marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales is set to be increased to 18 on 27 February 2023, in a bid to protect children from the scourge of forced marriages.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 received royal assent earlier this year and is due to come into force on 27 February 2023. Simply put, the new Act means that the minimum age for marriages and civil partnerships has been raised in England and Wales to 18, up from 16. However, while the age for ‘tying the knot’ may have gone up in England and Wales, it remains at 16 in Scotland.
Reason for the change
Before the new Act became law, it was possible for couples aged just 16 and 17 to legally marry or apply for a civil partnership in the UK. The ability to marry at such a young age has been enshrined in law for over 90 years, provided that both the bride and groom had the consent of their parents.
Currently, forced marriage is only an offence if the person uses a type of coercion (for example, threats) to cause someone to marry, or if the person lacks capacity to consent to marry under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
The Act will therefore also expand the criminal offence of forced marriage in England and Wales to make it an offence in all circumstances to do anything intended to cause a child to marry before they turn 18. It will now be an offence to cause a child under the age of 18 to enter a marriage in any circumstances, without the need to prove that a form of coercion was used. The forced marriage offence will continue to include ceremonies of marriage which are not legally binding (for example, in community or traditional settings).
In addition, both adults and children can seek legal protection from forced marriage in the civil courts through a Forced Marriage Protection Order. This is an injunction that prevents a party from carrying out certain activities towards or relating to the applicant such as physical violence, direct or indirect contact or making marriage arrangements.
The new law replaces the outdated Ages of Marriage Act 1929. Whilst civil partnerships are a much more recent development, the new Act also covers these couplings. This means that anyone who wants to marry or enter into a civil partnership will have to wait until their 18th birthday to do so.
It is worth noting, however, that the new Act is not retrospective; it does not affect the validity of any marriages or civil partnerships entered into prior to the passing of the new legislation.
Is Gretna Green still an option?….
It does seem likely that the chapel at Gretna Green will experience an influx of young couples applying to get married across the border from now on, either.
The new Act considers the prospect of young couples either eloping or being forced to marry in another country. Forcing an underage couple to marry by removing them from the UK carries the same stiff penalties.
If you would like advice before entering into a marriage or civil partnership (whatever your age), speak to one of our specialist Family Law solicitors on 01244 310022 or at firstname.lastname@example.org