There's a lot to love about registry office weddings. There's the intimate romance, with the ability to keep it simple and say 'I do' with only two people baring witness to your nuptials. There's the rockstar appeal with famed celebs like Paul McCartney and Liam Gallagher tying the knot at a register office. There's the budget-friendly factor, allowing you to create a beautiful ceremony (some registry offices specialise in weddings) at a fraction of the price. And then of course the legal side, with many couples saying their vows at a registry in the UK before heading off abroad for a destination wedding.
The appeal is widespread, but how it actually works is a little more mysterious. Here we run through everything you need to know about registry weddings.
What is a civil ceremony?
A civil ceremony consists of the couple, two witnesses and two registrars. "At the bare minimum the couple has to enter into a verbal contract," says Alison Cathcart of Old Marylebone Town Hall in London. "So the registrars need to hear the couple say two legal sentences, and by saying those words, that makes them married."
When can you have one?
While the idea of popping down to your local town hall to get married may sound hopelessly romantic, it's not actually legally possible. All couples in the UK have to give notice to wed at least 28 days before their proposed marriage date - regardless of whether they are having a civil ceremony or a religious ceremony.
The registry office you give notice at doesn't have to be the registry you have your ceremony at. You'll also need to book a room and time at the registry office you want to have your ceremony at. The more beautiful registry offices in the country tend to book up very quickly - especially on Saturdays in summer - so it's recommended to do this well in advance.
What does a registry office wedding involve?
According to Alison, as long as the ceremony includes those two legal declarations, you can include extra things and turn it into something that is meaningful to you. "You can have personal vows, personal readings and music. It’s common for people to write their own vows, which often adds more meaning to the ceremony and makes it really special."
What can’t you have at a registry office wedding?
A civil wedding must be free of any religious connotations, including passages from the bible, religious texts or singing of hymns. "To all intensive purposes though, you can mirror a religious ceremony," advises Alison. "So you can have readings, songs or musical interludes. You can customise your ceremony a lot more, whereas if you have a religious ceremony you have to stick to certain rules."
How can you customise your ceremony?
Depending on the registry office you book, you may be able to choose from different sized rooms to have your ceremony in (some can even fit 100 people). Vows, readings and music are also a great way to customise your ceremony and make it more meaningful, and depending on the space and time you have (often an hour), you can also bring your own flowers to decorate the room.
"I can’t speak for all registries, but at Old Marylebone Town Hall we try to accommodate everyone the best that we can so I’ve seen everything from mariachi bands to the match of the day theme being played on a harp," says Alison. "The Town Hall is also dog friendly, so plenty of couples bring their dogs. We’ve even had an owl as a ring bearer, but unfortunately the owl decided to not come down from the lights, so we had to have a bit of a pause in the ceremony. Having said that though, most people are quite traditional."