Legal recognition for Humanist marriages

The uphill battle fought by Humanists for legal recognition for couples who have undertaken a Humanist marriage ceremony has recently taken a significant step forward.

Further to the Judgement of Mrs Justice Eday DBE, the Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said, “We have waited 19 years for this reform since it was first considered by the Government in an ultimately abandoned review of marriage law, and seven years since parliament gave the Government the power to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages with requiring a new Act. Thanks to this Judgement, it is at least now not a matter of if humanist marriages will be legally recognized, but when.”

Six couples brought legal action but failed in their High Court bid to win legal recognition for Humanist marriages. Mrs Justice Eady stated in her Judgement that the discrimination suffered by the claimants is real and advised that the Secretary of State for Justice had demonstrated a legitimate aim in seeking to address the differences in treatment as part of a wholesale reform of the law on marriage.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples each year have a Humanist wedding but in order for their wedding to be recognised legally, they must also have a civil ceremony.

Humanist weddings are becoming more and more common as the popularity of religious ceremonies decline. A Humanist wedding allows the couples to have a more unique wedding that can be designed by the couple, often allowing the couples to get married outside and in other places not registered for civil ceremonies.

Should a couple, after having a Humanist wedding, not wish to also have a civil ceremony, then currently their marriage will not be legal. As a consequence of this, upon breakdown of the relationship, they will have limited financial claims that they could make against each other in comparison to those which could be made had the marriage been legal.

On the breakdown of a legal marriage in the UK each party is entitled to make such financial claims as for capital lump sums, property adjustment orders, spousal maintenance and pension sharing orders.

Those who have had a Humanist wedding but not made it legal by having a civil ceremony will also have their financial claims limited. In disputes regarding property, the parties could issue an application under the Trust of Land and Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. Issues of dispute regarding child maintenance the Child Maintenance Service will be able to assist or alternatively claims can be made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act.

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