The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 is due to come into force on 27 February 2023, having received Royal Assent on 28 April 2022.

The Act will raise the minimum age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales, with the aim of protecting children from forced marriage. 

At present, in England and Wales couples aged 16 and 17 can marry or enter into a civil partnership with parental or judicial consent.   In 2018, 147 individuals aged 16 or 17 were married in England and Wales.  These figures do not represent the true extent of the issue, as they do not take into account ceremonies where the marriage was not formally registered. 

There are statistics in relation to Forced Marriages, which include marriages (whether or not they are legally binding), where there are issues surrounding capacity and/ or coercion, so one or both parties do not, or cannot, consent to the marriage.  For example, in 2021, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice and support in 337 cases related to a possible forced marriage and/ or possible female genital mutilation (FGM).  It also recorded 868 general enquiries.

Of the cases that the FMU provided advice or support in 2021:

  • 118 cases (35%) involved victims below 18 years of age
  • 120 cases (36%) involved victims aged 18-25
  • 53 cases (16%) involved victims with mental capacity concerns
  • 251 cases (74%) involved female victims, and 86 cases (26%) involved male victims

Under the new law, 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Wales will no longer be able to marry or enter into a civil partnership in any circumstances.   To cause a child under 18 to marry will be a criminal offence, without the need to show coercion.  Criminal liability will also extend to religious ceremonies, even if the marriage would not be legally binding. 

Private Client practitioners should be alert to the fact that the Act could impact existing Wills or Trusts prepared specifically in contemplation of a marriage before the age of 18. 

The law relating to marriage and civil partnerships is devolved in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, couples can marry or enter into a civil partnership if they are both at least 16 years old and parental consent is not required.  In Northern Ireland, parental or judicial consent is required for couples aged between 16 and 18.  It is not clear, at present, whether the governments in Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow suit.

Date published

20 January 2023


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