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Marriage: Legal minimum age set to rise

Marriage law surrounding the age at which a couple can legally tie the knot in England and Wales is in line for another shake-up.

The legal age of marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales is to be raised from 16 to 18 years old.

In a further move, any adults found to have helped underage marriages take place could face jail.

It comes after the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, which was introduced in June 2021 by Conservative MP Pauline Latham, was passed in Parliament this week without opposition.

It is set to receive Royal Assent later this week and will become law soon after.

So, what is the new law and how could it affect families?

At what age could couples marry previously?

Until this law change, people could get married at 16 or 17 years old, with parental consent.

The new law only applies to England and Wales, while the minimum age of 16 remains in place in Scotland, where parental consent is not needed. The minimum age of 16 also remains in place in Northern Ireland, but parental consent is needed.

What does the law cover?

The new law also covers cultural or religious marriages that are not registered with the couple’s local authority. Previously, non-registered marriages were taking place involving children under 16 years old.

Who will be punished for breaking the law?

Adults who help an underage marriage take place could face up to seven years behind bars and a fine under the new rules, however the children involved will not be punished.

Meanwhile, adults who take children abroad to get married also risk jail and fines.

Why was this law introduced?

The bill was introduced after years of campaigning to stop vulnerable children to be forced to marry.

Introducing the bill, Pauline Latham MP said the law would create a blanket ban on child marriage and would send out a “clear message to everyone that child marriage is unacceptable”.

Do you need advice on marriage or any other issue related to family law? For expert support, contact our team today.

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