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Too busy to marry? Delegate! Proxy weddings

Marriage, as we all know, is the legally recognised union entered into voluntarily between two consenting adults. But what if one of those adults isn’t able to be there at the appointed time?

The issue of legal proxies is an interesting one. In England you have to be there at your wedding in order for the marriage to be a valid one, and it would seem odd to most people that this wouldn’t be the case. However, in some countries and some circumstances it is possible for two people to marry where one, or even both of them, is not present at the wedding.

The practice of marriage by proxy was more common in Medieval Europe, with some of the better known dynastic examples being the marriage of Catherine of Aragon to Prince Arthur (older brother of Henry VIII) who were betrothed by proxy in 1497 when Arthur was 11 and she was 12, and later married by proxy in 1499, and three centuries later the proxy marriage of Napoléon Bonaparte to Marie Louise, Archduchess of Austria in 1810.

These days some jurisdictions permit proxy marriages. For example the states of California, Texas, Colorado, Montana, and Alabama in the USA recognise it, as do Nigeria, Brazil and Paraguay, amongst others. In fact in a first for such things, a “space wedding” reportedly took place in August 2003 when Ekaterina Dmitriev married Yuri Malenchenko, a Russian cosmonaut orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station, by proxy whilst she was in Texas and he was 240 miles above New Zealand.

Just to reiterate, English law does not permit proxy marriage: both people have to be present here in person in order to marry validly. However if a proxy marriage was celebrated in a jurisdiction which allows marriage by proxy and is considered by that legal jurisdiction to be valid, then the English courts will recognise it here. The media reported a case a few years ago where a couple had a proxy marriage ceremony in Brazil (of which one of them was a native) which the English court recognised as valid, despite them both being physically present in England at the time of the ceremony.

The issue can be further complicated by marriages taking place over the telephone or Skype (valid in some countries) and involving the use of a proxy present at the wedding, or even over the telephone/web, between two separate countries and involving a present proxy. In those cases specialist advice is needed as to where the marriage actually took place to determine its validity.

As ever, if there is any aspect of family law which you would like to discuss with us, please give us a call on 01223 443333 to make an appointment to see Sue, Gail, Adam or Simon.


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