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Raising the minimum age for marriage

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022

Divorce, living together and family issues

decorative image for guidance blogFrom 27th February 2023 the legal age that someone can get married in England and Wales has been raised to 18.

This is as a result of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 coming into force.
The Act only applies to England and Wales as Scotland and Northern Ireland have devolved powers in relation to marriage and have not changed their rules.

Prior to the Act coming into force people in England and Wales had been able to get married at 16 or 17 with parental consent. However now parents cannot consent to waive the age limit and 18 will be the youngest age for marriage.

The main purpose of this legal change is a drive to prevent forced marriages. It has been illegal to coerce someone into marriage for some time now, but the new law means that it will no longer be necessary to prove coercion or force. The fact that someone has been married before 18 will be enough to breach the law. The intention is not to punish the young person getting married because the main offences are committed by adults or parents who facilitate a marriage of someone under 18. That can lead to a prison sentence of up to 7 years.

The law also applies to cultural or religious marriages which are not recognised by the local council. That means offences could be committed by adults arranging a marriage which is only recognised as such within a certain culture or religion.

Adults may also be committing offences if they take someone under 18 out of the country to get married. This all adds up to a strengthening of the law to prevent forced marriages of children and younger people.

In 2021 the Governments Forced Marriage Unit supported 118 cases of people who had suffered pressure into marriage, but campaigners believe this is the tip of the iceberg, and in fact many more forced marriages take place every year.

Forced marriage is just one aspect of the legal issues relating to family law that people can encounter. If you need legal advice around a family law issue use our search tool to find a lawyer who may be able to help you, simply go to our search page and click the “show me SRA regulated” toggle and click Divorce, living together and family issues from the Services offered to bring up solicitors who specialise in this area of the law.