Wedding bells at 16?

Soon, that won’t be possible.

In April 2022, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act was given Royal Assent – and is set to come into effect on Monday 27th February 2023. Which means, young people who wish to say ‘I do’ at an early age will now have to wait a little longer.

Here our family law solicitors explain all.

What changes are being implemented?

Under the Minimum and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022.

1. The minimum age for marriage

Until now, young adults – aged just 16-17 years old – were legally allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership. The only proviso was that both parties needed to have parental or judicial consent.

This has been enshrined in law for over 90 years.

However, making consequential changes to both the Marriage Act 1929 and the Civil Partnership Act 2004, the new bill will raise the legal marriage age to 18 years old. As such, 16 and 17-year-olds will be unable to marry or enter a civil partnership under any circumstances – with or without consent.

2. Forced marriage law

Currently, forced marriage is only classed as a criminal offence if:

  • the young person is coerced into the marriage or civil partnership (e.g. threatened)
  • the young person is deceived into leaving the UK and coerced into marriage
  • the young person lacks the mental capacity to give consent

However, the new Marriage and Civil Partnership Act will introduce a new criminal offence – in which it’s illegal to do anything intended to cause a child to marry before their 18th birthday.

This new offence will include both legally binding and non-legally binding ceremonies of marriage (e.g. those in traditional or community settings). It also covers ceremonies in other countries. Forcing an underage couple to marry by removing them from the UK will carry the same penalties.

What’s more, to prosecute, there will no longer be any need to prove coercion or deception.

Why is the law changing?

This new marriage law aims to protect vulnerable young people who are at risk of exploitation, particularly concerning forced marriages. Rather than punishing the young people involved, it’s designed to offer protection and target those who are instigating the underage partnership.

Whilst the average age for consensual marriage has risen in recent years, child marriage continues to be an ‘invisible yet thriving issue’ in the UK. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), of the 219,000+ marriages that occurred in the UK in 2019, 422 involved men under the age of 20 and 1146 involved women under the age of 20.

Raising the minimum age for marriage to 18, whilst also strengthening legal protections, is hoped to reduce these figures – helping to eliminate child marriage in the UK.

Plus, as there’s no need to prove coercion, it should also encourage victims to support the prosecution of those involved, without having to speak out against their families or community.

Reach out to our family law solicitors today

The Marriage and Civil Partnership Act 2022 is a significant step forward in child protection – propelling the UK towards the worldwide goal of eliminating child marriage by 2030.

If you need immediate advice on this matter, we’re also here to help.

Contacting a lawyer – particularly about such a sensitive issue – can be incredibly daunting. But at St Helens Law, we have a supportive team of family law solicitors, with ample experience in this area. And we can provide the legal guidance you require, with empathy, discretion and professionalism.

Perhaps you’re concerned about an underage civil partnership? Maybe you’re worried about the welfare of a young person who may be at risk of a forced marriage? Or would just like some pre- or post-marriage legal advice for yourself?

Whatever the circumstances, you can talk to one of our family law solicitors – in complete confidence, at any time. To get in touch, call us directly on 01744 742360. Or if you prefer, send an email to and we’ll respond to your enquiry as soon as possible.