WHAT ARE THE CHANGES?
On the 27th February 2023, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 came into effect. This raises the minimum age of marriage and civil partnerships to 18 in England and Wales. Previously, individuals aged 16-18 could still get married or enter into a civil partnership provided they had parental or judicial consent.
The Act also makes it an offence for a person to cause a child to enter into a religious or civil ceremony if they are under 18, even if the marriage would not be legally binding.
WHAT DOES THE LAW NOT COVER?
The changes only apply to marriages that take place in England & Wales.
In Scotland, the minimum age remains at 16 with no parental consent required.
In Northern Ireland, the minimum age remains at 16 but parental consent is required.
The Act also does not apply retrospectively, meaning marriages that took place before the 28th February 2023 are still valid.
WHAT ABOUT MARRIAGES ABROAD?
A common question is whether getting married abroad will get around the new legal age of marriage in England and Wales?
According to the explanatory notes to the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill the answer is no. The notes say:
“the anticipated effect on the common law of the proposed change to the minimum age of marriage would mean that marriages of under 18’s, which take place abroad, would not be legally recognised in England and Wales if either party is domiciled in England and Wales.”
WHY HAS THIS CHANGE COME ABOUT?
After extensive campaigning the law has been changed to protect children from the scourge of forced marriage.
Previously, forced marriage was only an offence if there was some type of coercion used, i.e. a person was threatened or if the person lacked capacity to agree to the marriage under the Mental Capacity Act.
Under the new Law, it is an offence under any circumstances to cause a child to marry under the age of 18. The offence is punishable by up to 7 years in prison and a fine. It is important to note the child will not face any penalties.
It is clear that although forced marriage has been an offence for some time, the law was failing to protect children from being coerced into marriage. They are often pressured into getting married young by family members, and this affects their chances later in life.
The purpose of the Act is therefore to protect children from this coercion into all types of marriage, both registered and religious. It is hoped that the new law will empower young people and the risk of imprisonment and a hefty fine will deter people from arranging these marriages.