Legal prerequisites for marriage
Getting married is a serious commitment. Marriage is a legally binding contract that will affect both parties (and, to a certain extent, their children) for all of their lives. There are a number of strict rules and regulations governing marriage. The first set of rules specifies who may and may not marry each other and in what circumstances.
Once you have fulfilled these conditions and are sure that you are entitled to marry, you should consider how you wish to marry. There are several different ways (religious, secular and civil) of solemnising a marriage so that it is legally binding.
Please note that this section deals only with the legal requirements for the capacity to marry. If you are marrying through a religious or secular ceremony, you should discuss their requirements with the celebrant of your marriage.
To contract a legally valid marriage in Ireland the parties to the marriage must:
- Have the capacity to marry each other
- Freely consent to the marriage. Free consent may be absent if, at the time of the marriage, a person is suffering from intoxication, brain damage, mental disability, mental instability or insanity to the extent that he/she is not able to understand the implications of marriage. Additionally, if someone agrees to marry because of threats or intimidation, his/her apparent consent may also be invalid and the marriage may be void.
- Observe the necessary formalities
Capacity to marry
To be legally entitled to marry, both of you must fulfil all of the following requirements at the time the marriage takes place. Both parties must:
- Be over 18 years of age or have a Court Exemption Order if this is not the case.
- Have given the Registrar 3 months' notification of the marriage (or have a Court Exemption Order if this is not the case) and have been issued by the Registrar with a Marriage Registration Form. A couple whose civil partnership was registered in Ireland do not have to give the 3 months' notice.
- Be either single, widowed, divorced, a former civil partner of a civil partnership that ended through death or dissolution, or have had a civil annulment of a marriage or civil partnership or a valid foreign divorce or dissolution. (If you are marrying your civil partner you do not need to have your civil partnership dissolved before marrying. It will be automatically dissolved when you marry.)
- Have the mental capacity to understand the nature of marriage
- Not be related by blood or marriage to a degree that prohibits you in law from marrying each other. If you are related to your proposed spouse by blood or by marriage, you should contact a solicitor to ensure that you do not fall within the prohibited degree of relationship. (See "Further information" below on prohibited degrees.
If either party doesn't fulfil even one of the above requirements, any subsequent marriage ceremony is legally void.
Note: Since 16 November 2015 the requirement to be of opposite sex does not apply.
If you are ordinarily resident in the State, the minimum age at which you may marry is 18 years (unless you have a Court Exemption Order). This is the case even if you marry outside of Ireland. Even if you are not ordinarily resident in the State, you must be over 18 years of age if you wish to marry someone in Ireland.
There is no requirement for parental consent to a marriage, irrespective of the ages of the parties concerned.
Exemption from age requirement
In certain special circumstances, you may be able to get a Court Exemption Order allowing the marriage to proceed even if one or both parties are under 18. The court will require you to show:
- That there are good reasons for your application
- That the granting of such an Exemption Order is in the best interests of the parties to the intended marriage
You should contact either the Circuit Family Court or the High Court for details on how to proceed. This is an informal procedure. You may apply in person (without hiring a solicitor). There is no court charge for an application for a Court Exemption Order. However, if you hire a solicitor to represent you, you will have to pay him/her.
A foreign divorce
Not all foreign divorces are recognised under Irish law. Under the Domicile and Recognition of Foreign Divorces Act 1986, a foreign divorce will only be recognised in Ireland if at least one spouse was domiciled in the state that granted the divorce when the proceedings started. You may have to provide good evidence that this was the case and, therefore, that the divorce is valid under Irish law. Under EU Regulation 2201/2003 (“the Brussels II bis”) it is the spouse’s habitual residence that determines a court’s right to grant a divorce.
Where the divorce comes within EU regulations, it is sufficient to confirm that both parties to the divorce were notified of the proceedings and had an opportunity to give evidence to the court which granted the divorce.
Where EU regulations do not apply, certain information as to place of birth, countries of residence and other relevant facts must be supplied on a questionnaire provided by the Registrar. The information is then forwarded to the General Register Office, whose consent is required before the marriage ceremony can take place.
If the General Registrar is of the opinion that the foreign divorce is valid, then the new marriage can go ahead. If not, you can provide additional information to prove validity or else you can apply for a hearing before the Circuit Court. The Court's decision on the validity of a foreign divorce in Irish law is final and binding, although you may, of course, appeal to a higher court. If the Court decides that your foreign divorce is not binding, your only option if you wish to remarry in Ireland may be to get a divorce under Irish law.
A foreign dissolution
If a legal dissolution of a civil partnership is granted outside Ireland, it will be recognised under Irish law if the Minister of Justice and Equality has made an order recognising the appropriate class of legal relationship in the country in which the dissolution was granted.
Prohibited degrees of relationship
Prohibitions apply to marriage between certain people related by blood or marriage. A couple who fall within the prohibited degrees of relationship cannot marry. These prohibitions are based on:
- Consanguinity – blood relationship including half blood (half blood means having one parent in common, for example a half-brother)
- Affinity – relationship by marriage
The prohibited degrees apply to a wide range of family relationships and include marital and non-marital offspring.
An adopted child is within the prohibited degrees in relation to its natural family and adoptive parents. However, it would appear an adopted child can marry the child of their adoptive parents.
You can marry your deceased spouse's sister or brother. This also applies if your marriage ends due to a divorce rather than a death.
There is no legal restriction on the marriage of first cousins.
Consanguinity – blood relationships
You may not marry your:
- Grandmother or grandfather
- Mother or father
- Father’s sister (aunt) or brother (uncle)
- Mother’s sister (aunt) or brother (uncle)
- Sister or brother
- Father’s daughter (half sister) or son (half brother)
- Mother’s daughter (half sister) or son (half brother)
- Daughter or son
- Son’s daughter (granddaughter) or son (grandson)
- Daughter’s daughter (granddaughter) or son (grandson)
- Brother’s daughter (niece) or son (nephew)
- Sister’s daughter (niece) or son (nephew)
Affinity – relationship by marriage
You may not marry your:
- Grandfather’s or grandmother’s spouse (step-grandmother or step-grandfather)
- Father’s or mother’s spouse (stepmother or stepfather)
- Father’s brother’s or sister's spouse
- Mother’s brother’s or sister's spouse
- Son’s or daughter’s spouse
- Son’s son’s or daughter’s spouse
- Daughter’s son’s or daughter’s spouse
- Brother’s son’s or daughter’s spouse
- Sister’s son’s or daughter’s spouse
- Spouse's grandmother (grandmother-in-law) or grandfather (grandfather-in-law)
- Spouse's mother (mother-in-law) or father (father-in-law)
- Spouse's father’s sister or brother
- Spouse's mother’s sister or brother
- Spouse's daughter (stepdaughter) or son (stepson)
- Spouse's son’s son or daughter
- Spouse's daughter’s son or daughter
- Spouse's brother’s son or daughter
- Spouse's sister’s son or daughter