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  • Writer's pictureLisa Flahant

Booking your legal ceremony

If you’re having a celebrant ceremony, no doubt you have been made aware that in order to be legally married, you also need to book your legal ceremony – and for most people, this will be in a register office.

You’ll need to make an appointment to give your notice, you’ll have an interview, fill in forms and have your identity checked, as well as pay your notice fees. And before you attend, you’ll need to have an idea of which type of ceremony to book (most couples will choose the simple legal ceremony), so you can find about availability and pay the deposit.

It’s generally straightforward. So I was quite surprised to receive a call a few weeks ago from a bride-to-be (not one of my existing clients) asking if I could give her advice on booking their legal ceremony through the registration service.

The bride-to-be wanted to book a simple/basic/legal wedding ceremony at the register office. No fuss, get the paperwork done, straightforward – whatever you want to call it. She’d visited her local registration service’s website and clicked on the legal ceremonies page and was presented with three options of ceremony: Distinctive, Classic and Simple. (Or in my book – Super-expensive, Quite-expensive and Still-expensive-for-what-you-get.)

Given that only three choices were highlighted, each with lovely fonts and pretty pictures, she assumed it was the Simple Ceremony she needed and followed the link to check the detail. Now, having read up on the subject on my website :-), she fully expected the ceremony fee to be around £50. But, inexplicably, it was over four times the price, at £225.

Hang on a minute I said, that can’t be right. Are you sure there aren’t any other options? I can’t see a cheaper one, she replied. There has to be, I responded, every local authority has a legal obligation to provide the basic ceremony. (Or was that something else the government has recently done away with, I wondered?) But on checking, yes, the law states:

The law provides that a couple in England or Wales can be married by a superintendent registrar in a minimal ‘two-plus-two’ ceremony, in the presence of a registrar and two witnesses, for £127.* *Just for info, this cost breaks down as the ceremony (£46), the marriage certificate (£11) and the notice (£35 each for UK citizens).

So why was this bride-to-be unable to locate the two-plus-two ceremony? I looked at the web page in question again, and again, and eventually - once I had scrolled to the FOOT OF THE PAGE - under 'other information', there it was. No lovely fonts, no pretty pictures, just three lines about a ‘no frills’ marriage, for which availability was restricted, and a hyperlink to the fees page.

Now this, it really does grind my gears. My bride-to-be can’t be the only one booking (or nearly booking) the wrong ceremony and paying over four times what she needs to – in fact, in research published in The Law Society Gazette, it’s been shown time and time again that registration services everywhere are burying this information so couples cannot find it. And, to add insult to injury, on the website of the registration service in question, it proclaims that they are there “to help you get the right information, make the perfect decisions for your special occasion and provide advice every step of the way.” And they are also “listening to our customers and making positive changes to the service.”

You’ve GOT to be kidding me. When people who aren’t even clients of mine ring me for advice about the registration service, something isn’t working. The registration service isn’t providing the right information. It isn’t listening to customers. And it’s definitely not making positive changes. A simple legal ceremony might be required by a couple for a whole range of reasons, cost and simplicity being just two of them, but the local authorities are making it difficult for couples because they WANT to make it difficult. And the reason for their belligerence? They know the majority of these couples are booking celebrant ceremonies alongside their legal ceremony, and they do not like it one bit.

So while I would love it if registrars and celebrants could work together more positively, it seems that until the registration service gets over its massive ego, things will never be any different. And that’s a shame. In the meantime, if you need any help with the legal aspect of marrying, please ask. I’m not an expert, but I am an expert at finding things that the registration service might not want you to find…

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