Marriage laws are in the process of even further changes. At present, a 16 or 17 year old can get married in England and Wales if they have parental consent. This will not be the case from 27 February 2023 as the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 is being introduced, which will mean that the legal age to get married, or enter into a Civil Partnership, in England and Wales will be increased to 18.
Any marriages or Civil Partnerships entered into by people under the age of 18 before the minimum age is raised, will not be affected. Additionally, the new law does not apply to Northern Ireland or Scotland, where it is still possible to marry at the age of 16.
Why is the law changing?
The minimum age for marriage is being raised in an attempt to end coercive or abusive child marriages. There have been concerns that the current law leaves too much opportunity for young people to be forced into marriage.
Official statistics show that, whilst the number of child marriages are relatively low in England and Wales, this new law aims to protect more vulnerable young people. The new legislation also creates a separate criminal offence if an adult is found to facilitate underage marriage and acts as a deterrent for a child to be married against their choice. Adults who are seen to be facilitating underage marriages or forcing a child into marriage will now face lot tougher penalties, which include fines and a prison sentence of up to seven years. This applies even if the marriage occurs outside of the UK. Anyone under the age of 18 who gets married, will not be subject to fines or imprisonment.
All mothers, and most fathers (and some others), have legal rights and responsibilities for children, and this is known as ‘Parental Responsibility’. In the eyes of the law, 16 and 17 year olds are still considered children and their parents or legal guardians retain Parental Responsibility until the child turns the age of 18.
Parental Responsibility means the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority a parent has for their child. Therefore, a person who has Parental Responsibility for a child has the right to make decisions about their care and upbringing. Parental Responsibility will end upon the child reaching the age of 18. At this point, the law sees the child as an adult and generally capable of making their own decisions.
It has been recognised that some children may not have the same understanding of certain situations than other children such as weighing up the positives and negatives of a commitment like a marriage. Some children may have lesser levels of maturity in their overall welfare and decision making process than others. These children need protecting and, with the new law being introduced, this is a significant step towards protecting our children.