C is for Civil Ceremony

The AOW A-Z of Getting Married is a resource for brides (and grooms) to be.  It’s a welcome piece of sanity in an industry-saturated world where people are bombarded with what weddings they should have, what they should act like, and how a bride should feel.  Created by the team behind Any Other Woman, this A-Z is the first collaboration of its kind, bringing together posts from readers across the AOW community filled with advice, wisdom and experience from sane, smart, real women, many of whom have been there.  From wedding planning to family trials to breaking taboos, no topic is out of bounds.  We are honoured and excited to run each and every post, and we learn from each and every one of our readers.

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C is for Civil Ceremony by Carly

There are many different decisions to make when planning a wedding and you busy brides-to-be know this and your head is probably spinning with decisions about the pretty – roses or peonies? Lace or tulle? To seat cover or not seat cover? These details are important and individual to everyone and I am currently thinking them over myself but the decision that has taken us the most time and we mulled over for months and months was trying to decide whether to get married in a civil venue or a church. Let me start at the beginning:

Our two families could not be more different. The fiancé’s parents are very much ‘do what you like, we’ll support you – whatever.’ My family (or should I say my Mum) are just a teeny bit more involved. My wedding day appears to be my Mum’s second wedding day and to say that she is a little over excited would be like saying Antarctica is a little bit chilly. She wanted her daughter to get married in a church, when asked why she said she likes the bells. I kid you not. This argument sort of rumbled on in the background until it came to actually booking the wedding. It came to a head when we were at a wedding fayre and we had found a hotel that we loved and wanted to get married there and my Mum, in her usual subtle way, said that our wedding would be more special in a church. As you can imagine this went down like a lead balloon and led to a rather heated discussion inside a photo booth!

The hotel we had seen is a beautiful old coaching inn. There are enough bedrooms for people to stay both nights if they want to and the fiancé and I loved the idea of some of the guest being together in one place the night before the wedding and having a relaxed morning in the hotel before preparing for the wedding. I also like the simplicity of a civil ceremony and the many chances that we will be given to personalise the service specifically to us. Our minds were made up and we were ready to book the venue.

Image by Lucy Stendall Photography

However, after one argument too many we agreed to go and meet the vicar of the church in the village where I went to Primary school and, actually, I am so glad that we went as the decision was made for us. We are getting married on Maundy Thursday and we were told that the only time we could get married was 11am as all the clergy from the area meet at Southwell Minster for a huge service in the afternoon. This was nigh on impossible as we have so many guests travelling from all over the country that we simply could not expect them to be in Nottinghamshire for this time.

I have to admit it was with a little smile on my face that I left the vicarage that evening as I was off the hook. In our heart of hearts we had never really wanted a church wedding but we had given in to the pressure from family members and this had led us to question our own decision. I have been a lot stronger around all decisions since this as I am learning to trust my own gut and not be forced into buying things or making decisions that don’t sit right with me or what my fiancé and I want for our wedding.

I would like to add that I am not taking anything away from those people that have made the decision to get married in a church. I think one thing we all agree on at AOW is that choice is paramount and whatever decision you make, for whatever reason is absolutely your prerogative. This is just my story and I wanted to offer a little bit of context as to how we made our decision.

So, that was my little piece of drama regarding Civil Ceremonies. Was/is anyone else in a similar position with trying to make their minds up over a church or non-religious ceremony?



The stuff you need to know:

First check that the venue you want to book/have booked is licensed to perform civil ceremonies. In England you must get married under a permanent structure, so your guests can sit outside but you and your hubby to be must be under something that has been built when you make your vows and are pronounced husband and wife. Many hotels now cater for this and have built lovely structures such as pagodas in their gardens to accommodate this.

Once you have decided on a civil ceremony you need to contact your local registry office to register your intent to marry. This has to be your local council registry office, even if you are getting married outside of the county. This can be done anytime from 365 days before your wedding. You both must give notice in person – no one else can do it on your behalf

You can book your registrar without registering your intent to marry, which is what we did as we had more than 365 days until our wedding but we wanted to make sure that there would be someone there to marry us! The current cost for a registrar to perform the marriage ceremony (in Nottinghamshire) is £365 but this price increases by 5-10% year on year. We had to pay a deposit of £150 to secure the date and time.

Most local authorities operate fixed times in which they will marry you. Nottinghamshire has slots at 12, 1:30, 3 and 4:30 so check this prior to booking your venue etc as this could influence the amount of time that you need to hire the venue for.

Registrars will work with the couple beforehand to arrange any poems or readings or personalisation of the vows. As civil ceremonies are non religious any readings or songs played must not contain any religious references.

For some reasons most hotels will give you the room for free if just for a reception but you have to pay the room hire if you’re wedding ceremony will take place in the hotel and the room hire is often very expensive! I quibbled over this with the hotel as I told them that if we got married at the venue then this would mean more people staying over the night before etc. so I did manage to get a small reduction on the fee. There are lots of places you can have a civil ceremony now, it doesn’t have to be at the hotel you are having your reception in, so get researching!


Categories: A-Z of Getting Married, Religion, Wedding Planning
25 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Becca
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Yes….well “check that it has a licence”. Seriously….do it. See C for Cancellation!

    There was never any doubt about our having a civil ceremony….TBTMMO is not in the slightest bit religious and it would have felt hypercritical getting married in a Church. To get all hot and heavy and philosophical my view (and my view, totally respect other peoples) is that if God (in whatever form that may be) is all forgiving he will understand that, to get married to my non religious amazeballs husband (probably how God would describe him) we need to get married in a civil ceremony.

    Of more excitement – where in Southall are you getting married?! My parents live outside Notts although we get married near Rutland/Leicestershire/Northampton (total border venue) and we booked James White to do our hair (you totally should if you haven’t already).

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      I will Google him, thanks for the rec!


  2. Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    We had similar angst between civil or religious, well for us Humanist or religious. My Dad is very Atheist and would be uncomfortable in a church whereas my Fiance’s parents very much wanted us to have a religious wedding. R and I are unsure of what we believe so also knew deep down that an overly religious ceremony was not what we wanted.

    After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing someone mentioned the Unitarian church and it suits us just perfectly. Here is a wee bit about them http://www.edinburgh-unitarians.org.uk/. We are meeting our celebrant on Friday so fingers crossed that works out.

    The celebrant will come to our venue and we will work with him to produce a ceremony that makes us all comfortable. We will have a prayer, for those that believe but our vows won’t mention God. The service we went to was more spiritual than religious and was so calming. I am really excited about working with them for our ceremony.

    Good luck to anyone else dealing with this conundrum xox

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      That sounds like an excellent compromise. I’ve never heard of it before so I’ll have a look at the link.


  3. Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Ha, well, my parents found out I wasn’t religious when I told them we had booked a brewery to get married in (ticks the eco-friendly, countryside, wildlife, beautiful building boxes, plus has lovely owners and erm, its a brewery!).

    Cue my parents’ frowns and the blank looks, but to their credit, they never really said anything negative about it, but also nothing positive, which made me realise “oh, they didn’t know I wasn’t religious”. So I explained my reasons why, and now that they’ve been to our venue, they love it! *mops brow*

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

      A brewery? Amazing!!


  4. Peridot
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Oooh, marrying in a brewery! That sounds fab.

    We were spared any angst here as I would say both of us are atheist. In fact, last time I was in a church I swore at the vicar. At a funeral. And I never swear. It’s okay, he didn’t hear but I think my fiance wanted to avoid this sort of potential shenanigans! And who could blame him…

    My favourite bit of this post though? Arguing in a photobooth! I don’t underestimate the stress and upset this may have caused but what a great place to have a row! Was it immortalised in a series of 4 small square photos where you both look like escaped convicts?!

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

      Haha, this made me laugh! Thankfully there isn’t any photographic evidence – if there had I would have definitely sent them in this with post!


  5. Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    My family is deeply Catholic and I would identify as Christian. My husband is an atheist.

    The effort required to explain that he would pay lip service and marry in a church and it was ME who did not want to get married in a church was so difficult. For me, I could not have him essentially lie while he committed to me, even if he was lying for my benefit. But I understand that others don’t feel that way and none of my family understood. I had several deeply upsetting phone calls with my Godfather.

    For our wedding it was my Dad who was very much like your mum. It was him who saw it as his day on some level and it certainly had some heartache. But I LOVED our civil ceremony and I HATE the new Catholic mass so I am so glad we stuck to our guns. But it was so hard.

    I’m not glad you had this experience but am glad you shared it. I wish I’d read this when we were going through this!

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      I think there should be a support group set up for dealing with parents about wedding politics. I love the bones of my Mum but she has definitely stressed me out more than anything else!


  6. Katy
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    The ceremony is, arguably, the most important and personal bit. I’m all for doing what you’re comfortable with and means the most to you.

    For us it was easy as practising Protestants who go to the same church… But I don’t know what would have happened if I’d fallen in love with an atheist because I’ve wanted a CofE ceremony ever since I was first a chorister at one and it means a lot to me!

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      I had always dreamt of a church wedding until a couple of years ago when I started attending weddings and I realised that all of the churchy bits wouldn’t mean anything to me as a non- religious person.

      I’m so glad that you had an easy decision regarding this.


  7. Katielase
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I wanted a church wedding, but Gareth didn’t. He’s a very firm atheist. At first he said he’d feel hypocritical, until I pointed out that if you don’t believe, it’s just a gorgeous atmospheric building. Nowhere in our vows did he have to swear by God or profess to believe, so it would only be hypocritical if he didn’t mean the vows, which he totally did (OBVS!)

    For us, this was the right compromise, but I completely agree that everyone should do what feels right for them. Only the two of you saw vows on the day, it is therefore your business how you choose to make them to one another. It’s actually the only area where I DO wholeheartedly agre with the Your Day Your Way mentality, because that special moment is yours.

    K x

    • Becca
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Katie that its YOUR day but you should have some consideration. I say this because we went to a TWO HOUR long Catholic mass at a wedding (new building, boiling hot day with no air conditioning) and everyone fell asleep. People were rolling their eyes and fidgeting after about 45 minutes. Lots of it was in Latin. I KNOW the B & G don’t speak Latin.

      Each to their own but I do think that people should consider their guests in this. I LOVE attending other people’s weddings and hearing them say their vows but in that two hour long Catholic mass, the vows and the ring were over in 10 minutes. The rest was the priest standing with his hands in the air and his eyes closed. I’m also pretty sure that the priest fell asleep at one point during the readings as he was slumped in his chair.

      • Carly
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

        I think I’d take the attitude that if my guests didn’t want to sit through whatever we’d chosen then they could knickers! There are Sooo many decisions I keep wondering about what our guests would think that I’ll drive myself mad f I keep thinking like that so I’m just trying to do what we want really.

        I’m loving the image of a snoozing Priest though, that would have kept me going :-)


        • Katielase
          Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          Have to say, I’m with Carly. I considered our guests’ wishes and enjoyment in every aspect of our day, and made compromises and worried about them having a wonderful day, and generally made it a day for them to enjoy as well as about us. I did that for every aspect of our day, except the ceremony. The way I saw it, the vows were between me and my husband, the rest of the day was about celebrating with our guests. Just for that time though it was just him and me, if people wanted to witness that, that’s so lovely, but for me it was still about us saying what we wanted to say, in our way, because it was our moment.

          2 hours is LONG though, to be fair!

          K x

      • Lottie
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

        For some people, the priest standing with his eyes closed and hands in the air can mean a lot; years worth of worship and a strong faith. I’d have been mortified if people had rolled their eyes and slept in our ceremony! Sounds like the congregation were a bit mean and thoughtless.

        After all, the day is about a marriage and for religious folk, that is in the eyes of their God. If they wish to celebrate that with a two hour mass, then as a loved one, be kind about that.

        Some ceremonies from different religions also take hours, even days! That’s what it is all about for many.

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

        One of the most beautiful and touching ceremonies we photographed was a full Catholic Mass with no hymns, all music performed by a choir in Latin. I found it fascinating. It was solemn, yes, but who says ceremonies have to be funny? (the funny ones are great too, mind!) Religion can be a very quiet, personal thing. It meant so much to the bride and groom and their families and the emotion was tangible. The incense, sung prayers and blessings, the communion, it was really something.

        I don’t think couples should have to consider their guests when it comes to the ceremony, I think it’s the guests responsibility to respect the couple’s choices. And however long or boring the ceremony might be for a guest who is not used to going to church/ the temple/ mosque, it’s the reason you’re there to celebrate. Without the ceremony there would be no reception. I suppose it might be better not to attend if it’s something you can’t see yourself engaging with or respecting. It’s infinitely better than being seen rolling eyes or falling asleep on the day. I think if it was my wedding I’d rather the guest turns down the invitation and doesn’t attend than attend and be visibly bored or critical of my choices.

        • Posted September 6, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          I agree with this L-Sten x

          • Rach M
            Posted September 8, 2012 at 8:28 am | Permalink

            Well said Lucy! I whole-heartedly agree.

  8. Frances
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I found this really interesting as we essentially had the same discussion on whether to have a civil or church ceremony and came to the opposite conclusion. Since I’m writing a later post on R for Religion I won’t go into details here but it certainly is difficult coming up with a decision that keeps everyone happy and I’m still not sure whether we’ve done so!

    • Carly
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      I’ll look forward to reading that one, by my estimations around Xmas time!


  9. Carly
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    It is a very hard decision and I’m not sure I would be totally comfortable with it if it hadn’t been made for me. Mostly because my Mum is very persistent and I’d probably still be questioning if we had made the right choice because of this. I

    We’re not getting married in Southwell, the church we looked at us under the diocese (?) of Southwell, so they were all heading over there. If anyone is interested though, we’re getting married here: http://www.yeoldebell-hotel.co.uk


  10. Sharon
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Carly, I loved your expression about your mum being a tiny bit more involved and treating your wedding like her second wedding day, I had to giggle as that is exactly how my Mum was. Hope all your planning goes well, and you trust your instincts all the way. If your Mum’s involvement ever gets too much, do get in touch and I’m sure I can make you giggle with stories of my Mum’s surprise dance routine at our reception! X

  11. Posted September 6, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Great post Carly and I’ve loved reading everyone’s comments. I’m doing H is for Holy Matrimony! in a few weeks from the other side of things.

    Having been to a lot of ceremonies, I think both civil and religious ones have a bit in common, it’s definitely what you make it. It’s ultimately all about you and your personalities as well as beliefs. I love that civil ceremonies can be as short as you like, literally a couple of minutes if you want (perfect for shy people who don’t want a big song and dance) or as personal as you like with songs (and a dance!), poems, personal promises etc. You are less restricted on how long the civil ceremony lasts at civil venues than at Register offices.

    One thing to be aware of is that Registrars can be even more militant about photography than vicars and priests, and often you don’t find this out until the day. Most people I’ve spoken to have expected civil weddings to be less strict and more relaxed but this is sometimes not the case.

    Another thing a lot of people don’t realise before they look into ceremonies s that there can be no mention of anything spiritual or remotely religious in a civil ceremony, which can be an issue for some people. So that’s Robbie Williams Angels out as a potential entrance music then. A lot of poems and songs use religious/ spiritual type language though, so it is something to watch. This is probably where H for humanist ceremonies comes in? Or D for DIY ceremonies, performed by a friend?

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Hello! We're Clare, Aisling and Anna and welcome to a corner of the world where smart, flawed, real women talk about the bigger picture; about their experiences, stories and opinions on all aspects of being a woman today, from marriage to feminism to pretty, too.

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