UK Immigration Law: Marriage and Civil Partnership

The Family Visa route for partners

In the year to March 2022, 29,939 people came to the UK legally on a family visa to live permanently with their partners. Many of them will be married or in a civil partnership. If they were not married, they would have to show that they had lived together in a relationship like marriage for two years before they made their application to come here. 

Couples in long-distance relationships have often not been able to spend two years living together. As a result, they decide to marry or enter a civil partnership to make their life together in the UK. So what are the rules around marriage and civil partnerships?

Valid marriage or civil partnership

The marriage or civil partnership must be valid and registered with the civil authorities. The country where it has taken place must legally recognise the marriage. It is not enough to have a religious ceremony without a civil registration. This means that if a couple is married in a traditional Islamic ceremony, but they do not register it with the civil authorities, the Home Office will not recognise the marriage. It is also essential that the newly married couple obtain a wedding or civil partnership certificate soon after the ceremony. Otherwise, the Home Office may not consider it to be genuine if issued years later.

Each party must be able to marry or enter a civil partnership. If they have been married previously, they must provide evidence of the divorce to show that the previous relationship has broken down. In the UK, a person cannot marry under 18 or 16 in Scotland. In some countries, the legal age at marriage is below 18 years old. The UK government will recognise such a marriage however, the parties can only use it to enter the UK once they are both 18 years old.


Arranged marriages

The UK government accepts arranged marriages where they are common in certain cultures. The Home Office will typically look for evidence of a previous relationship when considering an application from a spouse or civil partner. However, it will accept that there is little or no evidence of an earlier relationship when families have negotiated an arranged marriage between a couple not already in a relationship. It is important that both parties freely consent to an arranged marriage. The Home Office will not accept forced marriages.

Proxy marriages

Proxy marriages take place without both parties being present at the ceremony. One person may be at the wedding venue, but the other is not. If the country where the ceremony is performed accepts proxy marriages, the Home Office will accept it too. For example, Ghana accepts proxy marriages, as does the state of Utah in the USA. The applicant must provide specific additional evidence, but the Home Office will accept proxy marriages as valid in these circumstances.    

It is worth remembering, however, that anyone applying to enter the UK on the partner route must have met their partner. This seems obvious but these days many people meet and form relationships online. The Home Office will only accept that a couple has met if they have done so physically in person. Without that, there is no way someone will prove that the relationship is genuine.  

Sham marriages and civil partnerships (also known as Marriages of Convenience)

These are marriages or civil partnerships which take place for the sole purpose of obtaining immigration status for one of the parties. They are not based on a genuine relationship. If the Home Office considers a marriage a sham, this will lead to a refusal of permission to enter or stay in the UK and criminal investigations. To participate in a sham marriage or civil partnership is a criminal offence in the UK.   

Please contact our team if you have any queries about marriage and civil partnerships and the UK immigration laws.

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