Is Your Foreign Marriage Valid in England?

Nestled amongst the leafy green countryside of Berkshire, lies the suburban village of Bray, made famous by none other than the world-renowned chef Heston Blumenthal whose restaurant, The Fat Duck, has been on many a foodie’s bucket list.

Heston, for a change, has recently been featured in the press, not for his snail porridge, ice cream-curry or his sensory focused food but this time,  for his recent split with Stephanie Gouveia who he had “unofficially”  married in 2018. It remains to be seen whether the pair will need to go through divorce proceedings, with conflicting reports as to whether their 2018 ceremony was an official marriage. Though Stephanie was referred to as his “wife”, it is reported that the couple were never legally married.

Heston and Stephanie were married in the Maldives, and some of you reading this may have been married abroad too. How can you be sure that your marriage is recognised in England and Wales?

Firstly, a marriage abroad will be legally recognised in the UK providing it was contracted according to the law of the country in which it took place. There is no requirement, or facility, to register the marriage in England afterwards. We suggest that you consider obtaining extra marriage certificates, and translations if necessary, whilst abroad.

You should also ensure that you take some time to understand the law where you are getting married, in advance. Each country is different in every country and there will be varying rules and requirements depending on where you intend to marry. You will need to contact the country’s embassy or local authorities to find out what these are. You may be advised to obtain a ‘Certificate of No Impediment’ (CNI) from your local register office. This involves giving notice in the same way that you would if were you marrying in England. Notice can only be given by British nationals. Foreign nationals living in the UK wishing to marry abroad should seek advice from their embassies. A Certificate of No Impediment can only be issued for certain countries. To find out more visit the website. 

Secondly, the marriage must be allowed under English Law and must provide that the parties are:

  • 18 or over (this rose from 16 on the 27 February 2023)
  • Not already married or in a civil partnership
  • Not closely related

If the wedding has taken place abroad and the marriage meets the conditions above, then the marriage will be recognized in England and Wales. That means that there is a possibility of bringing divorce and financial proceedings in England. However, it is important to note that there exists a strict criteria in order to ascertain whether the English courts have jurisdiction to deal with your matter. The conditions are listed below:

  1. Both parties to the marriage are habitually resident in England and Wales;
  2. Both parties to the marriage were last habitually resident in England and Wales, and one of them continues to reside there;
  3. The respondent to the divorce is habitually resident in England and Wales;
  4. If a joint divorce application is being made, either of the parties to the marriage is habitually resident in England and Wales;
  5. The applicant to the divorce is habitually resident in England and Wales and has resided there for at least one year immediately before the application was made;
  6. The applicant to the divorce is domiciled and habitually resident in England and Wales and has resided there for 6 months immediately before the application was made;
  7. Both parties to the marriage are domiciled in England and Wales.
  8. Either of the parties to the marriage is domiciled in England and Wales

If your marriage is not recognised as legal in England and Wales, then it follows that no lawful marriage took place and there cannot be a divorce in England. In some cases such as Heston’s, this may be a convenient discovery, however, if you are seeking financial remedy, then the recognition of your marriage is the most important factor in determining your rights, as cohabiting couples do not share the same legal rights and financial claims as married couples. This may come as a surprise to many, who still believe there exists such a thing as “a common law wife/husband.”

At Blanchards, we pride ourselves in our professional, but nurturing, and caring approach towards helping clients in what is often the most difficult stage of their lives. If you have come to the decision that your marriage has come to an end and require advice, we have the right lawyer to guide you through the process of a divorce and the potential aspect of dividing your assets. Please do contact us if you would like a friendly chat about how we are able to assist.


Can we help you? Please call us on 0333 344 6302 or contact us through our enquiry form. All initial enquiries are free and without obligation.

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