Marriage and civil partnerships

Urgent marriages and civil partnerships

When a partner is seriously ill and not expected to recover, a marriage or civil partnership ceremony can take place at short notice. These ceremonies take place using a Registrar General’s Licence from the General Register Office and are sometimes called deathbed marriages/civil partnerships.

Ceremonies under Registrar General's Licence can take place at locations not normally able to hold ceremonies, such as your home, hospitals, and hospices

If you are arranging a ceremony in these circumstances, you will need to:

  1. Check that the unwell person meets the criteria to get married or form a civil partnership under a Registrar General's Licence. This means that the unwell person must be seriously ill and not expected to recover, cannot travel to a place registered for standard marriages and civil partnerships (for example a register office) due to their illness, and is capable of consenting to a legal ceremony (e.g., is of sound mind).
  2. Get a letter on headed paper from the doctor in medical attendance of the unwell person, confirming they meet the criteria to get married or form a civil partnership under a Registrar General's Licence. You can use these templates for a Marriage or Civil partnership
  3. Check which local council borough the unwell person is in. If they are at home, this is their local council, but may be a different borough if they are being treated in a hospital or hospice. The register office for the borough the ceremony will be taking place in will help you to arrange a ceremony by Registrar General's Licence, even if this is not where you usually live. If the unwell person is in the borough of Islington or City of London (the ‘square mile’), please email: registrars@islington.gov.uk attaching the required doctor's letter and your contact details. Use the words ‘URGENT - RG's Licence ceremony required’ as your email subject title so your email can be prioritised. If the ceremony will take place in a hospital or hospice, their palliative care social worker can help you with this.

Once we receive your email:

  1. A registration officer will check that the criteria to get married or form a civil partnership under a Registrar General's Licence has been met, and that the doctor’s letter covers all the necessary points.
  2. The registration officer will contact you as soon as possible to discuss the situation and arrange for notice of marriage/civil partnership to be taken. The person who is well can give notice for both partners, and the notice can be taken at your home or the hospital if needed. You will need to provide proof of identity and nationality documents for both parties at the time of notice. Please see our notice page for more information on the documents needed, although please note that proof of address is not needed in these cases.
  3. The registration officer will email all the required paperwork to the General Register Office to ask them to grant a Registrar General’s licence. The licence can be granted in minutes if the criteria is met.
  4. Once the licence has been granted, the ceremony can take place straight away, or arranged for another date within one month, depending on the condition of the unwell person, your wishes, and the registrars’ availability. You will need to provide at least two adult witnesses for the ceremony. Ceremonies can contain only the minimal wording, or be more celebratory in nature, and the registrar will discuss the content of the ceremony with you, so it is appropriate for the circumstances.

Please note that the notice is only valid for the place the unwell person is in at the time of giving notice. If they are moved, for example, to another hospital, another notice will need to be given.

Fees for ceremonies by Registrar General’s Licence

Couples will need to pay the following fees set by central government:

  • Entry of notice of marriage or civil partnership in notice book- £3
  • Issue of a Registrar General’s licence - £15

Further information

If you do not meet the criteria for a Registrar General’s licence, but you would still like to arrange a ceremony at short notice or at a location not normally able to hold ceremonies, please email registrars@islington.gov.uk to discuss your options within the law, depending on the individual circumstances.

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