There are two opportunities for prospective brides and grooms to give their registrars the correct information before they are married. The first is when they give Notice of Intention to Marry, and this can happen as far as a year before the ceremony right up to around 3 weeks before the day. All of the details are checked again on the day itself, in part to double-check the details, but mainly to update things like occupations and home addresses if they have changed. It’s rare that there is a major discrepancy between the information given at the notice stage and on the wedding day itself.
I’ll never forget the wedding of the man who forgot he was married.
It was an early morning ceremony in the Register Office, one of perhaps 5 ceremonies that were due to take place before lunchtime. I joked that the Register Office ceremony room should be fitted with a revolving door, as we often conducted a wedding every 45 minutes, and sometimes every 30 minutes. As was the norm, the groom arrived ahead of the bride to ensure that he didn’t see her before the ceremony. He was a middle aged fellow, relatively slim with a broad, cheeky grin.
I brought him into the Ceremony room to run through the usual questions.
‘What name are you using today? Have you ever been known by any other name? What is your occupation?’ His answers matched those that he had given at the Notice stage. Until I asked the next question.
‘Have you been through any form of marriage in this or any other country?’
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘You have been married before?’
‘I was divor-‘
And then the penny dropped. So did the grin from his face.
‘You previously said that you had never been married. When you gave Notice.’
He hung his head in silence.
‘I…I forgot. I forgot I was married.’
‘Then we have a problem,’ I said. ‘ How did that marriage end?’
‘I was divorced,’ he said.
‘Do you have your Decree Absolute?’
‘No, I don’t know where it is.’
‘Without some evidence that you are free to marry, we can’t go ahead with the ceremony.’
‘Can’t I just bring it in later?’
‘You should have brought it in at the Notice stage, when you had plenty of time. I can’t go ahead and marry you now. You could be a bigamist. I need to know that your first marriage has ended legally. I need to see your Decree Absolute.’
‘I don’t have it. Where can I get a copy?’
‘The Law Courts will be able to produce a copy but they aren’t open until Monday. There is only one other option.’
The groom looked hopeful.
‘Does your ex-wife have a copy?’ I said.
He went grey.
‘We didn’t part on good terms. I barely speak to her.’
‘If you can get the original from your ex, then the ceremony may be able to go ahead later today, in between the other weddings.’
‘Does your bride know that you were married before?’ I asked.
The groom went white.
When the bride arrived I brought her into a separate interview room and asked her the usual questions. Thankfully, her answers matched the ones she had previously given, other than her husband to be’s previous marriage. I told her that there was a problem with the paperwork regarding her husband and that the wedding would have to be delayed. The bride burst into tears.
In a break from tradition the bride and groom did see each other before the ceremony. They had to talk to their guests and tell them that the wedding would be delayed. Additionally, they had to reorganise the entire day with their reception venue, caterers, entertainment and everyone else who has a hand in making a wedding day run smoothly. They also had to get their stories straight with each other.
The groom spoke to his ex wife on the telephone. I can only imagine how awkward the conversation must have been as he explained that he was getting married and needed her copy of his Decree Absolute in order for the ceremony to go ahead. Whatever he said obviously worked, though, because the groom and his best man sped away in a car soon afterward.
‘What am I going to do all day wearing this?’ asked the bride.
‘Come and have a cup of tea,’ I said.
The Groom returned after several hours clutching his Decree Absolute, and following some lengthy phone calls and several faxes to General Register Office the ceremony did eventually go ahead later that day. I later found out that the rest of the day descended into farce as there were problems with the cake, the reception venue and the guests ended up fighting amongst each other.
I guess that the moral of the tale is that it is worth getting the paperwork right at the start of the process, even if it is a bit of a hassle, because it will be far more traumatic to resolve any issues on the wedding day. Would you really want your future marriage to depend upon your ex-wife on your wedding day?
Photograph from Jerry John used under Creative Commons Licence.