Families and divorce

Legal things to know before you get married

A pair of rings placed upon divorce papers, solicitors for marriage, getting married abroad legal requirements, wedding insurance

Legal things to know before getting married – including wedding insurance, prenuptial agreements and legal issues if you are getting married abroad.

Is living together the same as marriage?

No, and a cohabiting couple does not have the same legal rights as a married couple. 

Whilst many couples live together before marriage – in 2017, there were 3.3million cohabiting couples in the UK (source : Office for National Statistics) – many are unaware of their lack of legal rights and responsibilities to one another. For example, unmarried couples living together do not have the same rights as married couples in relation to income, capital and inheritance rights following the death of your partner. 

What is wedding insurance? 

Wedding insurance is a type of insurance that protects you if something goes wrong with your wedding arrangements. It protects the financial investment you’ve made in your wedding day. For example, wedding insurance policies typically cover the loss of things like food, flowers, travel, clothing, wedding rings and your wedding venue. 

Without wedding insurance, you may be left out of pocket if one of your suppliers lets you down. For example, if your wedding venue goes out of business before you get married, you may struggle to recover the venue deposit. 

It’s best to take out wedding insurance right at the start of the wedding planning stage, before you have paid any deposits. Check the small print of the policies, as you may not be covered if you use a wedding planner who pays the suppliers for you, and make sure that the policy cover is sufficient to reimburse you for individual - and potentially very expensive - items, such as your wedding outfit or wedding dress.

Wedding insurance may provide cover if a key member of the wedding party is ill on the big day. However, most policies do not provide cover if you change your mind about the wedding (for example, if you break up). You will need separate insurance for your honeymoon and specialist wedding travel insurance if you decide to hold the ceremony overseas. As with all insurance, policies differ from provider to provider, so check carefully what is covered and make sure it is sufficient for your needs.

Call our specialist solicitors on 0808 231 1320

What if I want to get married abroad?

If you are getting married abroad, you need to be sure your marriage will be legal in the UK when you return home. Your marriage should be legal in the UK if:

  • your marriage would be allowed in the UK under UK law
  • you have complied with the required processes of the country where you were married.

If the answer to both is yes, then your marriage should be legally valid in the UK. However, if you are in any doubt, it is wise to consult a family law solicitor before you get married. A solicitor can tell you if your marriage will be legally valid, and any extra steps you may need to take.

To get married abroad you need to be over 18 years of age or, if aged 16 or 17, have the permission of your parents or guardian. Any previous marriage or civil partnership must have been properly terminated and you must be able to show the necessary documentation, including birth certificates or passports.

Once you have decided which country you’d like to get married in, it’s wise to research the specific requirements of that particular country. Every country has its own special rules and requirements, and it is prudent to be aware of these before you move ahead. The GOV.UK website has an online system that takes you through the specific requirements of each country, but you may feel more confident taking the advice of a lawyer with specialist knowledge of your chosen country’s marriage laws. Be sure to keep evidence of your overseas marriage, as there is no law requiring you to register a foreign marriage when you return to the UK – so it is important to store the wedding certificate safely as proof of your marriage.

If you need help with an international divorce - that is when your situation involves more than one country - we can help you make the best decisions and act quickly to get an advantage. 

What is a prenuptial agreement?

A prenuptial agreement, often known as a prenup, is a legal document that sets out how your finances, assets and debts would be divided if you get divorced. 

Prenuptial agreements are created by solicitors and if you would like to put one in place it is best to do so well in advance of your wedding.  You will need to make the agreements at least one month before the day itself (although a post nuptial agreement is also possible). Both of you should make a financial disclosure – which is a full and honest account of your financial situation (including your investments, savings, debts and any loans). You both need to take independent legal advice and enter into the agreement willingly, not bowing to any pressure from each other or anyone else. You should also ensure that you understand the terms and implications of the agreement. You will be advised to commit to regular reviews of the contract as the terms may need to be changed if, for example, you have children.

Is a prenup legally binding in the UK?

If you get divorced and have a prenuptial agreement in place, the judge is likely to uphold it unless it is considered to be unfair.  This may be because it doesn’t make adequate provision for your children, or spouse, or there has been significant change in the financial circumstances of you or your spouse. The judge will also want to know that you both received independent legal advice when the agreement was put in place, that you were each aware of the other’s financial position and all assets were disclosed and that the division of assets was reasonable.  A judge is unlikely to uphold an agreement that was put in place less than one month before the marriage, or where the agreement was made under duress.  It can also be the case that whilst the letter of a prenuptial agreement is not followed, the principles behind the agreement are influential on the outcome.

How are home ownership and property deeds affected by marriage?

If one of you owns a property at the time of your marriage, you may want to transfer the legal title of that property from the sole name into your joint names and, at the same time, record who should inherit the property.  This will be recorded in the transfer deed. If the property has a mortgage, you will need the consent of the mortgage company to transfer the ownership, or you may wish to apply for a new mortgage in your joint names. If the property is leasehold, you may need consent from the freeholder for the transfer. 

If you are looking to action the transfer of deeds and mortgage you can speak to one of our conveyancing solicitors. They will also be able to advise if there is any stamp duty to pay. 

If you have assets prior to marriage, you could take legal and financial advice as to the best course of action.

Do I need to make a Will, or update my old Will, if I get married?

If you have a Will in place before your wedding, it will no longer be legally valid once the marriage has taken place unless it was drawn up ‘in contemplation of your marriage’. Couples about to get married are advised to each make a new Will as part of their wedding plans, in order to avoid there being a period of time where no valid Will is in place. Without a valid Will, the law decides who should inherit from each of you. 

If you have a legally valid Will from another country, you are best advised to take advice from a legal specialist of that country, who will let you know if it will still be valid after your marriage.

Will my partner be entitled to my pension after my death?

Pensions rules can be complex and this could be compounded if you are already drawing a final-salary pension at the time of getting married. You should not assume that the pension will go to your new spouse if you die. Similarly, if you have previously bought an annuity, it is unlikely that you will be able to change it to be in favour of your new spouse after your death. However, you could take out a new annuity as part of your wedding planning, which nominates your new spouse as the beneficiary. Moreover, if you are not already drawing your company pension, you could add your new spouse as your nominated beneficiary. Both your state pensions will be unaffected by your marriage.

We’re here to help

Taking expert advice could save you and your new spouse a significant amount of money. 

Our family and divorce lawyers are based in:

EssexBrentwoodChelmsford, and Saffron Walden
HertfordshireBishop's Stortford and Royston

But we can help you wherever you are in England and Wales.

Chat to the Author, Joshua Coombe

Partner, Families and Divorce, Chelmsford office

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