The validity of a marriage taking place outside of UK

If a marriage has been celebrated outside of the United Kingdom, the validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the place where it was celebrated

It is important to know whether or not a marriage is valid to determine whether marriage rules or cohabitation rules apply.

If a marriage has been celebrated outside of the United Kingdom, the validity of a marriage is determined by the law of the place where it was celebrated (lex loci celebrationis).   Therefore, so long as the marriage is in accordance with the law and procedure of that country, then the marriage is valid.

In the matter of Hayatleh v Mofdy [2017] EWCA Civ 70 (14 February 2017), a religious marriage had taken place between the parties in Syria in February 1999. The husband was living in England at the time and had been represented at the marriage by a proxy. The wife subsequently moved to England and in August 2000 their daughter was born. They lived as husband and wife until Husband issued divorce proceedings in February 2013. The divorce proceedings would have run as normal had a District Judge, on reviewing the documents, not questioned the validity of the marriage.

In May 2015, His Honour Judge Tolson determined the Syrian marriage was valid and the parties could pursue divorce proceedings in England. The husband however appealed.  Both parties accepted that the religious marriage had been intended as a binding, valid ceremony under Syrian law. However, according to the joint expert, Syrian law also required the marriage to be registered following the birth of their daughter to become a binding civil marriage and there was conflicting evidence about whether this had occurred.

The Court of Appeal found that the judge had correctly relied on the presumption of marriage by cohabitation and reputation. Where there is evidence of a marriage ceremony and the parties have subsequently cohabited, unless there is cogent evidence to the contrary, a valid marriage is presumed.

The parties had cohabited for 14 years and had conducted themselves as a married couple throughout that time. It was particularly telling that Husband had issued divorce proceedings, thereby asserting there was a valid marriage that he was seeking to dissolve. There was no compelling evidence against the presumption of a valid marriage.  Therefore, Husband’s appeal was dismissed.

Where a marriage takes place in the UK in accordance with a particular culture and religion but does not accord with the law in UK, then that marriage is not considered a valid marriage.  In those circumstances, cohabitation rules apply.

 

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