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Virtual weddings: the alternative way to get married on Valentine’s Day

It was almost a year ago when we released our trilogy of Valentine’s Day articles, in which we discussed what preparations you should be thinking about before getting engaged (i.e. Pre-Nuptial Agreements) and ensuring that you have thoroughly prepared for the marriage ceremony itself. The beginning of 2020 sparked a frenzy of wedding plans, but who would have guessed that all those plans would come to a shuddering halt when most of the world went into lockdown.

To many people in the western world, hearing the news of a new flu-like virus in South East Asia, which we now know to be Covid-19, was considered by many to be something that the other side of the world would only have to deal with. The situation changed however, as more and more countries went into full lockdown and others were only running essential services whilst most of their population stayed at home.

Our lives effectively came to a standstill. Any wedding day plans last year had to be cancelled or postponed indefinitely. There were some windows of opportunity to get married last year, but couples were still faced with family and friends, both living here and abroad, being unable to attend due to the travel restrictions and cancellation of flights. Specific government restrictions were released on 17 July 2020 stating that small wedding receptions would be able to take place but no more than 30 people could attend (under current guidelines, the number has reduced to 6 people). Some wedding plans were cancelled due to the fact that for many it just did not feel right to be getting married when there was so much misery going on in the world.

Necessity is the mother of invention and with that came alternative ways to getting married. In a world where family catch up’s and business meetings had all diverted to Zoom, it was perhaps only a matter of time before we saw the arrival of the Zoom wedding – a virtual only marriage ceremony. There are many advantages: no accommodation to book, no need to book flights, no expensive reception venues, no need to arrange for someone to house-sit your children or pets and no outfits to buy. Indeed, a Zoom wedding also meant that you could have hundreds of “guests” logging in to watch a live streaming of your wedding without the need to feed them all afterwards. Gone went the Reception, but not necessarily the best man’s speech which could also take place via Zoom (but no less nerve racking).

The traditional form of marriage ceremony meant that couples would have needed to attend in person with their witnesses. In April last year, however, New York Governor - Andrew Cuomo - issued an Executive Order allowing couples to obtain licenses and marry “utilizing audio-video technology”. Couples could therefore “attend” a wedding ceremony without having to appear before the celebrant in person. The video conference had only to allow for direct interaction between the couple and the celebrant, the witness or the person to solemnise the marriage. What this means is that even couples who are not quarantined together can have a virtual wedding, so for example, last week saw the marriage of a bride based in Mexico and a groom based 5,000 miles away in the UK. The ceremony was overseen by a wedding company based in Germany in accordance with regulations in Utah, USA.

There are many online businesses that can facilitate online marriage ceremonies. One US company provides couples with an online platform to get married. The couple can choose the type of wedding package to suit their needs, arrange for two witnesses to be on the screen or in the room for the ceremony, the service is paid for online, ID documentation is uploaded, and a ceremony is then scheduled.

For those couples in England & Wales still wanting to marry or have a civil partnership in the traditional way – in person – the most up to date Guidance for ceremonies can be found on the UK Government website, which was just updated on 19 January 2021. The rules will vary depending on whether you are in either Tiers 1 to 4. At the extreme – Tier 4:

  • weddings and civil partnership ceremonies must only take place with up to 6 people; anyone working, for example the celebrant is not included;
  • where possible, weddings and civil partnership ceremonies should only take place in exceptional circumstances (i.e. where someone is seriously ill and not expected to recover).

The latest news from Prime Minister Boris Johnson is that it is still “too early” to say whether England’s Covid restrictions will be able to end in Spring. The longer the restrictions stay in place, the more some couples will be willing to explore alternative ways to get married.

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