Further changes to 'Weddings during Covid-19'.but major reform is required for weddings and couples cohabiting.

Today (17th July 2020) the Prime Minister announced that from 1st August 2020, it would be possible to invite up to 30 guests to a wedding reception within the overall aim of easing lockdown ".so we can get back to something closer to normal life".

This will be welcoming news for couples who have felt forced to place their wedding plans on hold. This is because of the imposed Covid-19 restrictions and the inability of having a large post ceremony reception.  In some communities it is common and expected to have a guest list of between 300 - 400 invitees and to also having more than one ceremony.

The allowance from 1st August will still not be sufficient for couples who wish for a large scale, and often lavish wedding. Nonetheless though, it is a move towards allowing a couple to invite guests to join their wedding celebrations and to mark a day which is one of the most important events in their lives.

We should not overlook the necessity of the restrictions that were imposed in March 2020 in order to control the coronavirus from spreading. However, the impact for some couples wanting to marry was that they were unable to exchange their vows in a manner which they considered to be most meaningful to them.

This reminds us of the words of Professor Nicholas Hopkins back in December 2015, who has been reappointed as Law Commissioner for property, family and trust law for a 5 year term from 1 October 2020, "The Law Commission believes that a modern law of marriage should allow couples to get married in the way they want and in a place that is meaningful to them.."

Marriage (and entering into a civil partnership) is one of the most important lifetime events for a married couple and has an immediate impact on an individual's legal status.  The announcement of the major law reform in family law, namely that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has passed all of its Parliamentary stages and that no-fault divorce will become law – is a major step in allowing a couple to have greater autonomy in bringing their marriage to an end. Such successes should further encourage us to look at other areas of family law that are in dire need of reform.

On 1st July 2019, the Law Commission announced its work on reviewing the laws around how and where people can marry in England and Wales. The aim of the Commission is to set out their proposals for a simple and fair system enabling modern couples to have meaningful choice about their wedding ceremony.

The project will:

  1. consider where a wedding should be able to take place;
  2. consider how to remove any unnecessary red tape which hampers choice and increases the cost of wedding venues;
  3. aim to ensure that the law works for all couples and all faiths, including those who are not as well served by the current buildings-based system; and
  4. seek to make the law more simple and certain so that it is clear whether a couple's marriage is legally valid

The Commission's recommendations will be based on five principles:

  1. certainty and simplicity;
  2. fairness and equality;
  3. protecting the state's interest;
  4. respecting individuals' wishes and beliefs; and
  5. removing any unnecessary regulation of venues which hampers choice and increases the cost for couples marrying

Further information can be found at https://www.lawcom.gov.uk/law-commission-begins-work-on-weddings-reform/

However, marriage and wedding law reform is not the only area that should be considered for reform.  The legal remedies available to couples who are cohabiting outside marriage including couples who are in non-recognised marriages (non-qualifying ceremonies) must be urgently reformed and at the same time.

Currently 'cohabitation law', is made up of a patchwork of property, trusts and contract law. If children are involved, limited financial provision might be available under schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. The applicable patchwork of English legal rules can often be unsatisfactory. The rules are deemed complex, uncertain and can be expensive to rely on. The applicable rules were not designed for family circumstances and often give rise to unjust outcomes.

Therefore, this is an area of law that requires urgent reform alongside marriage law reform. The aim should be to provide a new legal structure that accommodates our diverse society, and one that will sustain further societal change and be fit for modern life and modern couples.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.