You can ask our solicitors online for advice on marriage contract using the question box on the front of our website or the following free legal advice guide may answer your questions.
Marriage is a legally binding commitment between two people, marriage contracts are formed when they decide to marry, and it is one that is taken very seriously in law. There are two main types of marriage that are recognised in Britain; a religious and civil ceremony and both types give the couple certain rights, more rights than they would have if they were simply cohabiting.
Rights could cover many different things from finances through to responsibilities for children. There are also certain rights surrounding benefits and pensions.
Parental responsibility is an important right that is created during a marriage contract. If a child is born when the parents are married, each parent will share the responsibility of the child equally. Another right that is created by marriage, under the Matrimonial Act 1983 includes a right to property. This means that a spouse has the right to live in the matrimonial home, even if they are not named on the mortgage or listed as a tenant.
Anyone over the age of 16 years can enter into a marriage contract, but parental consent must be given for anyone between the ages of 16 and 18 years. In order for a marriage to be ‘legal’ there are some minimum requirements that must be met alongside the age requirements outlined above, such as:
- The marriage must be either a civil or religious ceremony
- The couple must not be related to each other
- Both parties to the marriage have given their full consent and are marrying through free will
- Both parties are of sound mind and recognise the significance of a marriage contract
- The marriage must be carried out at a recognised location, licenced to conduct weddings such as a church, registry office or other approved venue
- Each party must comply with standard residency requirements
For both civil ceremonies and religious marriages, public notice of the wedding is needed. For a religious ceremony this will involve reading of the banns which will announce the wedding in church, usually three weeks before the wedding. All marriages will need to be registered and a certificate issued at the local registry office.
An engaged couple will need to visit a vicar or registrar before the wedding and take with them some formal identification documentation. This will include proof that any previous marriages have been terminated as well as documents such as a birth certificate and passport.
In law, marriage is taken very seriously. Even when a marriage contract is broken, the couple will need to remain married for at least one year before the marriage can be ended. The courts will always attempt to preserve the status of marriage, but there are certain types of marriage contract that may be classed as being threatening to marriage and they are therefore treated as being illegal. Some of these will be explored a little more in the following sections:
A promise of separation
There may be an agreement between two people that they will agree to separate at some point in the future. If this agreement is made before the couple marry, the marriage cannot be enforced. It is important to state that this rule cannot be applied to an agreement which does not relate to the distant future, but it is a decision made when the marriage breaks down and there is anticipation of upcoming separation.
One of the agreements that cannot be enforced on this basis in English law is the concept of pre-nuptial agreement which is common in the United States. These are often used when one party is particularly wealthy. An agreement such as this aims to avoid disputes in relation to the distribution of property if the marriage breaks down. In English courts, this type of agreement is deemed to be ‘against public policy’ and as a result it couldn’t be enforced.
A marriage contract can be void if it imposes liability on one party if they marry. As an example, if one party agreed to pay the other a sum of money for marrying them, the marriage cannot be enforced.
A brokerage contract would occur when one party agrees or promises to acquire a marriage for another party. Acting as a kind of ‘matchmaker’, the contract cannot be enforced. There has been some debate and contention with this because it brings into question where the difference is between this type of marriage and one that occurred as a result of being introduced by a dating or introduction agency.
Marriage is a lifelong commitment for many, but there are occasions when it breaks down for one reason or another. If it does you can exercise your legal rights and pursue the necessary channels if you separate or if the differences are irreconcilable, explore the option of divorce. That being said, there are many marriages that last for a lifetime and by entering into a contract and taking your vows you agree to enter into a legally binding agreement with your spouse.