Two million husbands and wives are not lawfully married because of a Church of England blunder, it was revealed yesterday. Their church weddings are legally invalid because the vicars who married them used the wrong form of words, CofE lawyers admitted.
The error affects more than a million weddings celebrated over the past 30 years in churches across England.
Prince William and Kate's marriage could be unlawful if the Church of England do not make legal changes. It opens the prospect that marriage partners heading for divorce may try to deny their spouse maintenance, support or even a home on the grounds that they were never really married - the trick tried by Mick Jagger when he claimed his Balinese Hindu wedding to Jerry Hall was never a real marriage.
The latest difficulty to hit marriage law comes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s prenup judgement in the case of heiress Katrin Radmacher, which means many couples marrying now must consider taking out prenup deal to protect their assets against divorce, and the Government’s move to end legal aid for divorce, which is likely to force people to take out divorce insurance.
It may also mean the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton will be unlawful, unless legal changes approved by the CofE’s parliament, the General Synod, yesterday win Royal Assent and pass into law before the wedding day next April.
The Church’s blunder involves the wording of the banns, which must be read out in church three times in the weeks before a wedding. The banns ask if anyone knows of any good reason why the marriage should not be allowed.
Under the Marriage Act of 1949, the wording of the banns must be that set out in 1662 the Book of Common Prayer. This asks the congregation ‘if any of you know cause, or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy Matrimony.’
However, in 1980 the Church brought in a new prayer book, the Alternative Service Book, with a new marriage service and a new form of wording for the banns. The modern wording has continued to be used in the CofE’s latest prayer book, Commons Worship, adopted in 2006.
But when the new prayer books were approved, as is legally necessary, by Parliament, Church lawyers forgot to change the 1949 Marriage Act so that it included the new wording of the banns. This asks if anyone knows a ‘reason in law’ to stop the marriage. As a result, no wedding conducted under the form prescribed in the newer prayer books is lawful.