On Monday 27th February 2023, The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 came into force. The Act raised the legal age of marriage and civil partnership in England and Wales to 18 years. The Act was given Royal Assent in April 2022 but has only just come into force.
Previously, people aged 16 and 17 could marry or enter a civil partnership with parental consent. Under the Act, this will no longer be possible. The aim of raising the minimum age of marriage and civil partnership is to protect children from forced marriage. A forced marriage is one that the parties do not fully or freely consent to. This could include physical force, but it may also involve emotional pressure and psychological abuse, for example by being threatened.
In 2021, the Forced Marriage Unit reportedly provided advice and support in 337 cases relating to a possible forced marriage and/or possible female genital mutilation. Of these cases, 118 (35%) involved victims below 18 years of age. It is hoped that the change in law will reduce the number of forced marriages involving children.
The Act also makes it a criminal offence to cause a child under the age of 18 to marry or enter into a civil partnership. Before this, forced marriage was only an offence if coercion, such as a threat, was used. Now anyone who arranges a marriage or civil partnership for a person under the age of 18 could face a custodial sentence of up to seven years, regardless of whether coercion is used.
It is important to note that the changes only apply to England and Wales. The laws on marriage and civil partnerships in Scotland and Northern Ireland are devolved so they will not be affected by this change. In Scotland, it is possible to marry or enter into a civil partnership when both parties are aged 16 and over. Parental consent is not required to do this. In Northern Ireland couples can marry or enter into a civil partnership, provided they have parental consent, when both parties are aged 16 and over. It is possible the Scottish or Northern Irish governments will follow the changes in England in Wales in the future but for now, the existing laws will remain in place.
If you require any further information about this, please contact the family team.