Essential planning for a destination wedding

Rather than gamble on the elusive British summer, increasing numbers of couples are opting for a destination wedding in a sunny foreign country.

Rather than gamble on the elusive British summer, increasing numbers of couples are opting instead for a weather–proof wedding in a sunny foreign country.

In the excitement of wedding planning, it can be easy to overlook the legalities, and many people don’t realise that there are conditions that must be met in order for their foreign wedding ceremony to be recognised under English Law.

If you’re getting married overseas, you must understand and comply with the marriage laws of the country where you plan to say ‘I do’. The marriage must be legally valid in the country it takes place to be legally recognised here.


Requirements will change from destination to destination so need to be researched well in advance.

Every destination will require both parties to have certain original and solicitor-certified documents:

  • A full 10 year passport, with more than 6 months remaining before expiry
  • Full birth certificates
  • If divorced, decree absolute
  • If widowed, the marriage and death certificates relating to the deceased spouse
  • Statutory Declaration / Deed Poll of any name change
  • Adoption certificate (if relevant)

Additionally, certain countries will also require certificates of no impediment, or single status statutory declarations. Different countries have different requirements as to the minimum residency prior to the ceremony, and different conditions as to who can legally preside over a marriage ceremony. Again, you must check this as early as you possibly can.

What if the ceremony isn't legal?

English law recognises valid foreign marriages, can pronounce divorces and make financial orders for the appropriate division of the parties’ assets and income on divorce, but this only applies if the marriage is valid in the first place. Should the marriage be invalid, divorce proceedings may not be possible. It may also not be possible to pursue any financial settlement.

In the case of a spouse who is financially reliant upon the other, an invalid marriage could prove financially disastrous. It could result in that party receiving no financial settlement, or a much smaller one, than that they would have received had they been legally married.

In such circumstances, the couple would be treated within the law as cohabitees and not spouses.  Unlike married couples, a cohabitee has no legal right to maintenance for themselves or a right to a fair share of the capital assets, regardless of how long they have lived with their partner. The couple would need to rely on trust law to assist with the division of any property.

Couples who plan to marry abroad therefore need to do very careful preparation in advance. Seek appropriate legal advice. If not, sand in the wedding cake could be the least of their worries.

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