3 Options How to get Married in the UK

Should I have a Church wedding, Civil ceremony or a Celebrant?

Deciding on how to get married and enjoy a wedding ceremony that suits your style, depends on your age, your location and your preference. This article is aimed at raising awareness of the 3 choices open to couples (aged over 18 years or if between 16-18 years with parental consent) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

1.Wedding in a Church

Vicars, Priests, Ministers are often ordained into their denomination of faith and follow the templates of service as ruled by their Church leader; in this case we are focusing on the Anglican Church (otherwise known as the Church of England or Church in Wales).

Their Vicars often reside in the local parish, and couples tend to have a connection with their local Church.

The wedding service will have a religious focus. For example, it will include prayers, readings from bible etc.    Some will involve hand-tying of cloth over the couple’s hands, as seen on Prince William and Kate’s wedding.

The wedding in an Anglican Church is legally binding and often in beautiful and historic surroundings, so lovely for the photo opportunity as you walk outside as partners forever.  

Couples can choose music and usually religious orientated such as hymns.  Depending on who is conducting the service,the Vicar will include words personal and meaningful to the couple, and some talk about the rings for example.

With this option, couples often get to meet the Vicar before the ceremony, and have an opportunity of a rehearsal before the big day.

Typical costs are approx £500-£550 plus extra charges for the marriage certificate, attendance and support from the Verger during the wedding, organist, and bell-ringers, but check parish church for up to date prices.

The Anglican Church currently discriminates against same sex weddings - in other words if you are in a same sex relationship you cannot be married in an Anglican Church, whilst other religious orders do not discriminate, so its advisable to check out the parish rules with this regard.

Length of ceremony – 45 minutes to 1 hour on average.

Advantages of Church Wedding – ideal for those who want a traditional wedding service and a fully inclusive religious element.   Meet Minister before so get to know that person and have a rehearsal that can include the whole bridal party, which eases the nerves before the big day. Often held in historical buildings, so ideal for photo shots.
Disadvantages of Church Wedding – may discriminate against same sex marriages, insist on religious inclusion within ceremony, some do not welcome divorcees.  

church wedding planning by amanda louise wedding planner and celebrant

2.Wedding in a Registry Office

Registrars are employees of the Local Authority and follow rules as set up by the Government.  

The wedding service will have no religion or beliefs, nor special elements such as hand-tying as these are not allowed.  

The Registrar wedding is legally binding and held in the Local Authority Town Hall Registry Office room; the décor will vary.  Alternatively at an additional fee, the Registrar can be booked to attend at a licensed wedding venue and conduct the wedding ceremony there.  The Registrars are restricted to where they can conduct a wedding, for example the wedding ceremony must occur inside a building or in a cemented feature; in other words there has to be a 'roof' structure. This means that a couple cannot have their ceremony under a tree for example by a Registrar. Having said that, those restrictions have been temporarily lifted by the Government to help ease the limitations of 2020/21 weddings during the covid pandemic and to encourage social distancing and being outdoors. Currently that temporarily measures converts back in April 2022 to inside or in a cemented feature.

Couples can choose music if not religious, rings do not have to be exchanged if you do not wish to and no food or drink can be consumed during the ceremony.

This option doesn’t allow for couples to meet the Registrar before the wedding, there isnt an option to have a wedding rehearsal.

From 4th May 2021 the local registration service became responsible for registering all legal marriages (whether civil or religious). This means couples no longer sign the Marriage Register on their wedding day, but sign a Marriage Schedule beforehand (aimed at speeding up the admin process). The Schedule information is then entered onto an electronic system, and couples are asked to ensure that the information inputted is accurate, receiving their marriage licence approximately 7 days later.

Couples can choose to have a full wedding ceremony will pay approx £450 for mid week to £620 for a bank holiday plus other ceremonial or admin fees plus another fee if you want Registrar to attend a licensed wedding venue. Alternatively for those who prefer to have a very quick process to obtain their marriage certificate, they can opt for the statutory wedding ceremony at the Registry Office. This is like a basic meeting in a way can be described like registering a death or a birth but this time with a view of obtaining a marriage license. The cost is dramatically reduced, for example £57. Couples need to bring 2 witnesses and there is some short words that a Registrar must say during this basic ceremony to conduct the legal aspect.

The Registrar registration service offers couples a variety of options via their websites, so its advisable to check what is included -v- what is an added on expense. For example, how many guests you wish to invite, charges for a Saturday or bank holiday wedding, what room you use, whether you want the full wedding ceremony or opt for the statutory wedding ceremony for example.

Length of ceremony - 15 minutes (average).

Advantages of Registrar Wedding – ideal for those who want a short wedding service preferring to have a destination wedding, or do not want any religious content.   Can opt for their full wedding ceremony or choose to book their cheaper option of a short Statutory Wedding Ceremony at average cost of only £57 saving money for those who just want to obtain the legal marriage certificate.   Open to same sex couples. You can attend any Registry Office, so doesn't have to be the nearest to you.
Disadvantages of Registrar Wedding – the content is pre-written words, so couples have to choose which paragraphs/words they want so likely guests will have heard these words said by other couples.   There is little opportunity of including anything bespoke.   Some are not suitable for large guest numbers.
same sex weddings by amanda louise wedding planner and celebrant

3.Wedding by Celebrant

A Celebrant is often qualified, fully trained and associated with an over arching body such as The Institute of Professional Celebrants (now known as The International College of Professional Celebrants).    A Celebrant will be self-employed and offer this service via their own fully insured business, and will work across either their local area or some will work across the country.

A Celebrant-led wedding can include any religion, multi-cultural, beliefs or none at all, whereas a Humanist will not include any religion or beliefs.  

A Celebrant can officiate the wedding ceremony in both licensed and non-licensed wedding venues, whether outside or inside. They can conduct anywhere, so couples who want a beach setting or within their own home, in a hotel or barn, on a mountain, within an activity centre, underwater, in a plane, balloon for instance (the list is exhaustive), can all be achieved.    Similarly,there is no restriction on time of ceremony, so if couple want a day or evening wedding service time, this can be done 365 days a year.

marquee wedding planning by amanda louise wedding planner and celebrant

Couples can expect to have anything they would usually expect from a traditional wedding ie words,exchanging rings, vows, ceremony certificate, but with the added options of special elements or rituals. As a Celebrant will write the wedding ceremony from scratch, no two ceremonies will be same, so here couples can have a personalised ceremony that reflects them. For example a Celebrant may include the couple's love story or weave in rituals that resonate with the couple, some of these date back to Celtic times, whereas some are spiritual or from different cultures and others are modern elements from handfasting, unity sand, warming of the rings to even having a cocktail made during the service.

sand wedding ceremonies by amanda louise wedding planner and celebrant

A Celebrant will spend time with the couple beforehand listening to the couple's vision and understand their style for example, traditional, festival, vintage, themed, rustic, bohemian, seasonal and so on before suggesting elements that can be weaved into that ceremony style to make it become a one-off ceremony and often not heard or seen before by the guests. None of this is aimed at being cheesy or to belittle the process, but as options for each couple who want their day to represent them and not be told how their day should look and feel.  The couple can include any poems, and readings, and can use pre-recorded or live musicians during the ceremony.

For couples who already have children or blended families, including sand ceremony within their wedding by Celebrant is an ideal way to involve the children. It is not uncommon for dogs to be involved as ring bearers if the couple wish. For those couples with different heritages or cultures, a Celebrant can suggest different traditions into the ceremony that represents both customs.

garden wedding ceremonies by Amanda-Louise Knight Wedding planner and Celebrant
Photo courtesy Xanthe Rowland - Celebrant traditional wedding with religious blessings entwined with celtic elements

A Celebrant-led wedding ceremony is not currently legally binding, so couples often book in a simple Statutory Ceremony Meeting at a Registry Office to obtain that marriage certificate, this typically costs £57 to the Registrar so needs to be factored into this option. A Celebrant will have invested time and money to become a marriage officiant and as such their charges vary from £650 to £1,500 plus depending on their experience, their business overheads, insurance, the size and location of the wedding, special elements, the actual resources/equipment, and hours/time spent with the couple writing the bespoke ceremony for example. A Celebrant will offer value for money, as some will help with planning ideas for a wedding to support writing vows and speeches for example. Others will charge a basic standard wedding ceremony fee and then couples will pay more if they want special elements added, or if not local for example.

Length of ceremony - couple choice

Advantages of Celebrant Wedding – personally written just for the couple in their style, with options to include any religion or none, available in any location and Celebrant is not restricted on attending licensed or non licensed venues.  Can have rehearsal and as much time with Celebrant as required.  Importantly couple get to choose how they want their ceremony, can involve any family, children,or dogs in their actual ceremony, and often guests will not have seen or heard the rituals before.  Tailor made to couples having their love story included in the content.  Can have traditional format, spiritual focus,or easy laid-back style with right balance of sentiment, fun and personality of couple.   Ideal for same-sex couples wanting a religious marriage ceremony.
Disadvantages of Celebrant Wedding – currently not legally binding so couples who want that legal status or protection rights need to gain their marriage license at Statutory Wedding Ceremony at Registry Office, so need to factor that cost in.
celebrant led performed by somerset wedding planner and celebrant Amanda-Louise Knight
Celebrant-led wedding ceremony conducted outdoors

This brief insight highlights the 3 options available to couples when planning their wedding.the information is for general information purposes and whilst considered to be accurate at time of writing is opinion adviseable to contact each organisation for their up to date information and charges.considered to be accurate at time of writing with advice and care given for a balanced comparison, to . Here are a couple of questions often asked:

How long has a Celebrant-led wedding become the popular choice?

The growing trend for Celebrant-led ceremonies in the UK has grown over the past years and for many couples is the option they invest in for their wedding day, whether that's an intimate ceremony or large wedding event.  With a wide range of Celebrants to choose from, they often have their own specialty. For example some Celebrants focus on the spiritual or pagan side, some on themes or those who focus on the traditional elements but with a modern twist. The key is to find a Celebrant that you have rapport with, and a Celebrant who is trained and experienced will make all the difference when deciding on which Celebrant is suitable not only in writing but also in officiating the ceremony.

Is a Celebrant-led wedding fake?

A Registrar or Religious Minister actually only says around 40 words to conduct the legal aspect ie the legal contract between the couple, the rest of a Registrar or Church wedding ceremony is made up of religion, culture, celebration and words about union of the couple but they are restricted on how they can do this. Whilst a Celebrant (currently) cannot conduct the legal aspect, they do not have the same restrictions of content placed on them so they will personally write and conduct the wedding ceremony that represents the couples. This means there is no right or wrong way when it comes to a wedding; after all its about the love of two people and to celebrate that surrounded by their family and friends, so anything goes!

Written by
Amanda-Louise Knight

Amanda-Louise is the creative director of her UK award winning business, Amanda-Louise Knight Weddings Proposals & Events. She provides advice to modern couples who want unforgettable weddings that set the tone about their celebrations and love.

Amanda-Louise is a current celebrant, and has been involved in the events industry for over 30 years. Her love for logistics, she is wedding and marriage proposal planner in the South West of England. A dog lover herself, she is owner of Somerset Wedding Day Dog Chaperone Service ensuring furry babies are included or cared for by her team.

She is mentor to other celebrants and venue consultant to her corporate business clients dedicating her time to helping them grow their own businesses.

And it all starts with making a date with Amanda-Louise!

‍Blog Disclaimer - the article is opinion based by the author only, the content is for information purposes only, and as such is not guaranteed. Whilst its intended to be accurate there may be some unintentional errors, mistakes or omissions and therefore may be subject of updating. In accordance with any advice articles should the reader wish to rely on this information, they do so at their own risk. Any prices quoted are accurate at time of writing content.
Xanthe Rowland Photographer

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