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As a family lawyer, I have the pleasure of working with people at all stages of their relationships, says Kayleigh. Starting from when they begin living together and want to agree how to manage their joint lives, to having or adopting children and beyond. As a fellow bride-to-be, I know all too well how time consuming planning a wedding can be, but at the heart of it, it's the union of two parties and their families which is most important. But what are the legal consequences which flow from marriage and what are the top 10 questions to ask before you say 'I do'?
Will our wedding ceremony result in a legal marriage?
For a marriage to be legally recognised in England and Wales, it must comply with certain legal formalities. To start with, you and your intended need to be over 18(or 16, provided you have your parents' permission) and not already married or in a civil partnership.You should also consider your choice of venue, as the wedding ceremony which gives rise to a legal marriage needs to be licensed for marriage. Register offices and churches belonging to the Church of England and Wales are approved premises, as are many other venues (such as stately homes, barns and castles) provided that they have been approved by the local authority. Some, but not all, mosques, Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras are registered buildings but it is always advisable to check this with the venue. Not to worry if you have you have your heart set on a venue which is not approved, you can still host your wedding ceremony there but you will need to have a civil or church ceremony as well, for the marriage to be considered legal.
What if we get married abroad?
It is increasingly common to meet couples who are due to wed overseas. For a foreign marriage to be recognised under English law, it needs to have complied with all the legal requirements of the country in which it takes place. This generally includes giving notice and having the correct number of witnesses. Both parties to the marriage must also have capacity to marry and any previous marriage must have been terminated as per the requirements of English law. Provided that these criteria are met and that the couple go on to live together as spouses, the marriage is very likely to be considered valid.There is no longer any need to register an overseas wedding onyour return to the UK. If you have any doubt about whether the formalities have been complied with, your travel agent or wedding coordinator at the venue should be able to assist.
How do I give notice of my marriage?
You will need to contact the register office local to you and make an appointment with the registrar. Notice needs to be given at least 28 days before the marriage, but can be given at any time up to a year in advance. If your partner doesn't live in England or Wales,you can't give notice of marriage until they have arrived and you must then wait eight days. You can however book your notice appointment in advance.
Should we get a prenuptial agreement?
It depends. A prenuptial agreement is a document which a couple signs prior to getting married. It essentially sets out what a financial settlement might look like on separation. A prenup may cover a number of variations which can happen throughout a marriage (such as having children, one of you giving up work or inheriting money from family) and the terms of the prenup can vary depending on the length of the relationship. As a family lawyer, I see couples wanting to protect their assets in lots of different situations. For some, they wish to protect family money or inherited wealth whereas others, particularly those contemplating a second marriage, want to protect what they have for their own children. Prenuptial agreements are not just for celebrities and the extraordinarily rich, but when the court considers whether the agreement should be upheld, the judge will need to check that everyone's needs are adequately met and if there is not enough money in the pot to do this, the terms of the agreement are likely to be eroded. Each case turns on its own merit, so if you are considering what steps you can take to protect your wealth, I would always suggest taking advice from a Family Law specialist. Similarly, if you are presented with a prenuptial agreement to sign by your partner,make sure you take legal advice and fully understand the terms of the agreement. Whilst talking about money can be awkward, it is far better to have this conversation now than to regret it later.
If I own my house, does it stay mine after we marry?
If you are the legal owner of the property, that will not change after marriage (unless the title is transferred into your joint names). However, if your property becomes the family home where you live together as a couple, your spouse will acquire matrimonial home rights. That is, rights to occupy the property by virtue of being married. These rights can been registered at the land registry. Your spouse will also acquire a beneficial interest in the property and is likely to be entitled to share in its value.
We purchased our family home together and entered into a declaration of trust. Is that still binding after marriage?
You will need to check whether the declaration of trust deals with how the property is held after marriage, however even if it does, it is not necessarily conclusive as matrimonial law will take precedence. If you both want to continue to hold your shares in the same way as specified in the declaration of trust, you should consider whether a prenuptial agreement may be appropriate.
We have children from our previous relationships. What are my rights and responsibilities towards my step-children?
With up to 50% of children living with only one of their biological parents by the time they are 16, blended families are increasingly common. Many step-parents do not however realise that they do not automatically obtain parental responsibility for a step-child just by marrying their parent. This can be really important, as a stepparent may not be able to give consent for emergency medical treatment should it be required. If you wish to formalise your legal responsibilities for a step-child, you will need to consider obtaining a parental responsibility order or step-parent adoption.
What should my child call their step-parent after we are married?
There are no hard-and-fast rules, it is usual to be guided by your child's relationship with their step-parent. It is however important that the child's relationship with their biological parent is not minimised there should be plenty of space for both parents and step-parents to co-exist. Don't be surprised if it takes time to develop a relationship with your step-children. Patience and mutual respect are key to a smooth transition into blended family life.
How should we manage our finances once we are married?
This is entirely up to you. Joint accounts, bills accounts, separate savings are all options which can work well. Whilst your financial positions will become legally intertwined, that does not mean that you have to conduct your finances in any set way. The most important thing is that you are both comfortable with the arrangements and that they work for both of you.
We haven't spoken about children but we can discuss this once we are married, right?
A frank conversation about how you see your family life developing is really important. Whilst it is probably premature for most couples to bring this up on a first date, I cannot think of a more appropriate time than as you are preparing to make a life-long commitment to each other. There is no need to hold back: working out how many children you may want, how they are raised and how they will be educated are important decisions and you would be surprised by the number of couples who have not discussed this prior to the wedding. So in between selecting your floral arrangements and working out the seating chart, take some time to have an open and honest conversation about how you see your married life; after all, the wedding is one (very important!) day but your marriage will hopefully last a lifetime.
Kayleigh Biswas is a Family Law specialist at award-winning Rayden Solicitors, (www.raydensolicitors.co.uk) with particular expertise advising on cohabitation, prenuptial and postnuptial agreements, separation and arrangements for children. Rayden Solicitors have offices in St Albans, Berkhamsted and Beaconsfield and can assist with family law issues (including those with international elements) nationwide.