Homework May Prevent Happily Ever After Ending Up All At Sea

Mon, 04 Jul 2011

The holiday season is fast approaching and specialist family law barrister, Robin Rowland of No5 Chambers, considers the potential pitfalls of the popular trend of couples marrying at sea. 
 
We are all familiar with the phrase that ends “and they sailed away happily into the sunset”. It conjures up a romantic image of a couple bound for eternal wedded bliss. 
 
Married life, however, does not always sail a straight, smooth course and sadly, divorce often looms on the horizon. It is at this stage that either the bride or groom may have cause to regret that the wedding plans did not include checking the legal aspects of a ceremony aboard a ship.
The happy couple may need to beware that just because they were married by a ship’s captain, the ceremony may not automatically confer legitimacy.
 
Expert opinion is generally agreed that the validity of a marriage celebrated at sea depends on the law of the particular ship’s port of registry. These days that could lead couples to some pretty exotic ports and an element of confusion – a couple may have married under the Northern Lights having sailed from Southampton aboard a vessel registered in Hamilton, Bermuda. Would this confer legitimacy in an English court of law with the 50:50 approach to divorce?
 
Anyone considering a marriage at sea should ask the cruise liner or, indeed, cruise line, to confirm that the marriage has legitimacy under English law. In fact, before pushing the boat out on the romantic voyage of a lifetime, the starry-eyed would-be bride and groom possibly should engage in the more mundane task of researching where ships or lines are registered and then decide which one to book.
 
Should there be any doubt, my advice would be to book a register office ceremony as well so there is a ‘belt and braces’ approach. This may add to the cost of the nuptials, but could prove to have been worthwhile should the marriage hit the rocks.
 

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