New Laws to Simply Marriage Procedures


A Committee was set up to review the 150-year-old marriage law intends to simplify and update the complicated regulations. Kieron Wood reports in the Sunday Business Post.

New laws are to be introduced to simplify Ireland’s complicated, discriminatory and outdated regulations for marriage.

An inter-departmental committee was set up last year to review procedures and to produce “clear and simple procedures which will underpin the solemnity of marriage contract”.

Under current law, which is more than 150 years old, the state recognises religious and civil marriage. The committee proposes that marriages solemnised by other “approved bodies” should also be recognised.

The Catholic Church enjoys certain special privileges n relation to marriage, but the committee said all religions should in future be treated equally.

“Persons with differing religious views and practices or with no religious or other filiations should have equal rights and privileges under the law,” it said. “Therefore, rules relating to venues, preliminary procedural requirements, registration of churches, buildings or solemnisers, hours and form of marriages and registration requirements must apply equally to all marriages.”

Currently, anyone intending to marry must be over 18 and give three months notice (or obtain a court dispensation). In 2001, 1,189 people applied to the Circuit Court for exemptions, of which 1,160 were granted. The committee said that the requirement for three months written notification had led to confusion for the public, licensers and solemnisers of marriage.

The range of certificates and licences available to those planning to marry is also confusing. Couples may marry by the following:-

1. Registrar’s certificate
2. Registrar’s licence
3. Special licence issued by the Registrar General
4. Special licence issued by a bishop or head of certain denominations
5. Ordinary licence issued by an authorised member of a Church or religious body or
6. The reading of banns

Catholics and members of the Church of Ireland may use all the procedures, except a registrar’s licence. Members of more-recently established religious bodies are not allowed to issue licences and their members must apply for a registrar’s licence or certificate for a religious marriage. There are restrictions on where the ceremony may take place. A registrar’s licence may not be granted for a Jewish or Quaker marriage.

Complicated notice procedures apply to licence and certificate procedures, involving minimum residence requirements and personal attendance at the registrar’s office. Timescales for the issue of an ordinary licence range from seven for the Catholic Church up to 28 days for the Presbyterian Church.

The committee said that residency and notice requirements should be simplified. “The provision for a residence requirement prior to giving notice to a registrar or licenser of marriage was based on the premise of Victorian society, where people were, in general, born and known in the same or neighbouring parish or district. This is no longer the position.

“Society has become more mobile and the current residence rules impose an artificial burden on couples intending to marry. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that some persons who wish to marry outside their district are unable to do so.

“As a result of changes in society, a residence requirement is no longer workable and unnecessarily bureaucratic. The intent of this requirement should be met by other means.

“The rules in relation to licences for marriage are complex and not easily understood by either couples wishing to marry or to some extent by those involved in the issue of licences. Modern universal procedures need to be developed and the system needs to be simplified, more transparent and more easily administered.”

The committee proposes to:

1. Replace the present system of licences and notice by the introduction of universal procedures
2. Remove residence requirement and
3. Introduce new marriage notification and registration forms.

As well as giving three months written notification, the committee proposed that couples should jointly attend the registrar’s office, produce identification, jointly complete a statutory marriage notification form, make a formal declaration of freedom to marry and produce documentary evidence of the dissolution of any previous marriage.

The registrar will give the couple a marriage registration form with the intended date, celebrant, location and witnesses to the marriage. This form will be valid fro three months from intended date of marriage. A marriage may not go ahead without a valid form Couples will also be able to choose from a wider variety of locations in which to marry. The Registrar General keeps a central register of churches and registered buildings where marriages may be solemnised. (It does not include Catholic Churches, which do not have to be registered.) Other buildings may be registered for marriages following an application from ten households.

If two different denominations share the use of a church previously registered for a single denomination (such as Church of Ireland and Methodists) without applying for a change in registration, this may cause insoluble problems with the registration or validity of the marriage.

Civil marriage must be celebrated in the registrar’s office and this had led to complaints about the size, location and surroundings of such offices.

“Up to perhaps five years ago, the numbers attending a marriage in a registrar’s office were small,” said the committee. “In more recent years, the trend is for bigger wedding parties up to 50-60 people. The only registrar’s office able of accommodating such numbers is in Dublin, which is the largest and busiest in the country and which has a capacity of 60. It is understood that, during the summer months, there are five or six large weddings each week when the number of guests exceeds 50.

There is also growing demand for civil ceremonies in locations other than in a registrar’s office. Existing law in relation to locations for civil marriage is unduly restrictive and the limited facilities in many districts no longer meet customer’s needs or expectations.

“A modern universal policy in relation to marriage venues needs to be adopted and provided for in legislation to ensure equality of treatment of all persons wishing to get married.”

The committee proposes that couples should be free to choose where they want to get married, though the location must not detract from the solemn nature of the ceremony. The venue must be “seemly and dignified”, allow public witness to the ceremony, comply with fire and safety regulations and be separate from other activities on the premises. No food or alcohol should be served during the ceremony.

The committee said the marriage law was complex, uneven and not easily understood by the public or those involved in its administration.

The Marriage Acts require marriages to be celebrated with open doors between 8am and 5pm in the presence of at least two witnesses. Civil marriages may not take place on Sundays. Ceremonies are conducted in Irish or English, but here is a growing problem with foreign couples or witnesses who do not understand English.

The committee proposes that in future, marriages may take place between 8am and 8pm on any day of the week and that, if the couple, witnesses or solemniser are not sufficiently fluent in English or Irish, a qualified interpreter must be employed.


Main proposals for marriage law include

1. All religions to be treated equally
2. Simplification of notice conditions
3. Removal of residence requirements
4. New notification and registration forms
5. Wider choice of venues and times of civil marriages
6. Interpreters for couples who don’t speak English

The Marriage Ceremony must include:

1. A formal public declaration by the couple that there is no legal impediment to the marriage
2. A declaration by the couple calling on others to witness the marriage
3. Completion of the marriage registration from, preferably in public view
4. Return of registration form to a registrar within one month of the ceremony, when the marriage certificate will be issued