How to legally marry when having a Celebrant-led wedding in England
Updated: Jun 24
(or, as I like to call it, ‘The 2-Stage European Style Wedding)
A 2-stage wedding is when the legal part of the wedding (stage 1) is done separately to the main Celebrant-led ceremony (stage 2)
Find your venue or location and book it. Remember, because you will be doing the legal part of your wedding at a Register Office your venue does NOT need to be licensed for weddings which opens up many more options and availability to you.
There are no restrictions about locations if you are using a Celebrant as long as you have permission from the land or venue owner. So, consider your favourite places, those you love or have fond memories of, and those that suit your personalities so you will feel comfortable on the day. Yes, you can even hold the ceremony in your own back garden if you want to.
As a Celebrant I will work outside at any time of year but Registrars have to keep the Marriage Register safe and dry so will not conduct your ceremony outside in poor conditions. I, on the other hand, will come armed with wellies and brolly if needed but please make sure your guests are fully aware of the location so they can dress appropriately too. That said, it is still a good idea to have a Plan B indoors for really bad weather.
Check that your Celebrant is available for the date you have chosen and, if you haven’t already spoken with them, give them a call for a chat to make sure you all ‘get on’. The benefit of having a Celebrant is that you can get to know them in the run up to your wedding and you have lots, and lots of input into the style and content of your ceremony which you don’t get when using a Registrar. It’s the difference between a choice of three pre-set government scripts and a truly personal and exclusive ceremony!
As a Celebrant I will only conduct one wedding a day, thus making sure you can choose the best time, and one that suits you both, rather than accepting the limited availability of the Registrar. A Registrar does not have the flexibility to deal with delays and more than likely will need to dash off to the next wedding whereas a Celebrant is there for however long it takes.
Next you need to register your intent to marry. This must be done in all cases, whether you choose a Registrar or Celebrant. Make a booking with your local Register Office to give notice (intent to marry).
Giving notice is not the legal ceremony, you will tell the Registrar the date you want the legal part to happen (subject to availability) so choose a date close to your chosen celebrant-led ceremony date, usually the day before, but can be when suits you best. A booking fee and then a ‘notice’ fee will be payable (at the time of writing the notice fee is £35 per person) Inform the Registrar that you only require a standard service to say the legal words and sign the paperwork ( a ‘2+2 marriage service)
Remember, when you attend your legal service (Stage 1) you will need to take two witnesses, but you do not need to exchange rings or personal vows, or even get dressed up. Save all that for your special Celebrant led ceremony (Stage 2).
Now that your venue is booked, your Celebrant secured and your intent to marry logged with the Registration Service, you can start planning your big day the way you want it and without restrictions! Talk to your Celebrant about your ideas.