The impact of Covid-19 on legal weddings and non-legally binding ceremonies

Probert, Rebecca; Akhtar, Rajnaara; Blake, Sharon and Pywell, Stephanie (2022). The impact of Covid-19 on legal weddings and non-legally binding ceremonies. The Nuffield Foundation; University of Warwick School of Law.



It is well-known that Covid-19 prevented many couples from getting married in England or Wales. For many months in 2020 weddings could only take place in exceptional circumstances, and restrictions on the numbers who could attend the ceremony and reception remained long after the first national lockdowns had been lifted. The impact of these restrictions was experienced differently by couples depending on a range of factors including their views and beliefs about marriage. Some prioritised getting married, even if that meant sacrificing planned involvement of family and friends. Others postponed in the hope of being able to have the wedding that they wanted.

What is less well-known is that many non-legally binding ceremonies of marriage still went ahead, both during lockdown and when restrictions were eased. In some cases these non-legally binding ceremonies would have taken place anyway and the main impact of Covid was simply a longer delay in having the additional legal wedding. However, there were also couples who would not have had a non-legally binding ceremony had it been possible to have a legal wedding at that time. Similarly, while some of those conducting these non-legally binding ceremonies had previously conducted such ceremonies, others would normally only have conducted a ceremony only if the couple were already legally married, or as part of a legal wedding. Both trends were observable across a range of different religious groups – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh.

In this report we draw on two separate empirical studies to demonstrate the impact of Covid-19 both on legally-binding weddings and on non-legally binding wedding ceremonies in England and Wales. In the first section we explain the nature of these studies, the different samples, and our methodology. We then explore three separate phases of the impact of Covid: first, the short period at the start of 2020 when escalating concerns as to what might lie ahead led to a number of last-minute weddings; second, the months of lockdown when virtually no weddings could take place; and, third, the period when it was in principle possible to get married legally but only subject to certain limitations. In each of these sections we consider the impact on different types of legal weddings and non-legally binding ceremonies. In the final section we consider the lack of importance given to marriage during Covid and the long-term impact and legacy of the Covid restrictions on weddings and getting married.

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