Minimum legal age for marriage has increased to 18
On 27 February 2023, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 came into effect.
The Act introduces a number of reforms to the law surrounding marriage. The most significant of these is an increase in the legal age for marriage or civil partnership from 16 to 18. Previously, 16- and 17-year-olds were permitted to marry, provided that judicial or parental consent was sought in advance. Unfortunately, the occasional effect of this was to create a loophole for forced marriages, whereby the true nature of the marriage was hidden behind parental consent.
In order to further stamp down on this practice, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act also provides that it is a criminal offence to facilitate a marriage before a child turns 18, even if the marriage takes place outside England and Wales, and regardless of whether threats or coercion are used. However, the new law itself does not apply outside England and Wales; therefore, in Scotland and Ireland, the minimum age for marriage remains 16.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act is not retrospective, which means that a marriage involving a child under the age of 18 prior to the Act taking effect will not be invalidated by its provisions. Additionally, given that the average age of marriage had risen to 34.3 years for men and 32.3 years for women, the new law is unlikely to be relevant for the majority of those heading down the aisle. However, it has rightly been lauded by campaigners for the important impact it will have in culling forced marriages. Following on from the Family Court’s landmark introduction of no-fault divorce, the changes are also further evidence of a renewed focus on creating law which better suits the needs of those it is intended to serve.
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.