Can I marry my 16-year-old girlfriend?

I’d like to marry my girlfriend, but she’s only 16. Her mother is happy for us to get married, but she doesn't talk to her father. Can she still marry me without his permission?

As your girlfriend is under 18, she needs permission from her parents for you to get married. However, this assumes that her parents were married when she was born. This would give her father automatic parental responsibility. If they weren’t married then she may only need her mother’s permission. It’s worth thinking about whether not involving her father might cause a family rift, although it sounds like this may already be the case.

Changes to the legal age to marry in UK

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 will come into force in February 2023. This change in the law will make it illegal for 16 and 17 year olds to get married or become civil partners in England and Wales. The new legal age to marry will be 18. The reason for this change in the law is the continued problem of forced marriage. The government hopes this change will make it more difficult for forced marriages to go through.

Learn more about forced marriage here.

Can you get married at 16?

Until 26th February 2023 you can continue to get legally married at 16, but a person aged 16 or 17 cannot marry without parental consent. Consent can be given in person or in writing to the Superintendent Registrar.

According to the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), the following people are entitled to give parental consent:

  • Each parent with parental responsibility
  • Any guardian
  • The person with whom the person lives, if there is a residence order. This is instead of the consent of a parent or guardian
  • The local authority, if the person is in care. This is in addition to the consent of the parent or guardian
  • A person who had a residence order for the young person immediately before their 16th birthday, if there is no residence or care order in force at the time they want to marry. This is instead of the consent of the parent or guardian.

If the young person is to be married in the Church of England, proof of parental consent is not required. The vicar can marry the person provided they are unaware of any dissent.

If consent to the marriage is refused, the couple can apply to a magistrates’ court, county court, or High Court for permission to marry. If the court considers the refusal of consent to be unreasonable, it can overrule this and grant consent to marry. Legal advice is necessary before applying to court.

None of this will apply once the legal age of marriage changes to 18 in England and Wales.

Getting married in Scotland at 16

Young people from England or Wales who are unable to obtain consent can marry in Scotland; this is why people sometimes go to Gretna Green to marry. They will have to inform a District Registrar in Scotland that they intend to marry. The General Registrar Office for Scotland has a website that provides lots of information about getting married in Scotland and you can find a directory of registrars (pdf) on the website.

Currently, there is no plan to change this in line with the upcoming change to 18 in England and Wales, however this may change. The legal age to marry in Northern Ireland also remains at 16 for the time being.

Learn more about UK marriage laws here, or chat about this subject on our discussion boards.

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