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The change in the legal age for marriage and its effect on forced marriages

Published on 13 October 2022 | Modified on 13 October 2022

Written by Lana Jones

On 28 April 2022, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 received royal assent and is set to come into effect on 27 February 2023.

The Act raises the minimum age of marriage in England and Wales from 16 to 18 years. This means that from this date, it is not possible for anyone under the age of 18 to marry or enter into a civil partnership. This is a big change from the current law where 16 and 17-year-olds are able to marry or enter into a civil partnership with parental or judicial consent. The Act is not retrospective so it does not affect the validity of any marriages or civil partnerships that have been entered into prior to the passing of the new legislation.

The rationale for this change is to protect children against forced marriages and to close the gaps in the law which leaves them open to the risk of exploitation. This legal reform is a welcome and necessary step in protecting vulnerable children from forced marriages.

A forced marriage is where one or both parties do not or cannot consent to the marriage, and pressure and/or abuse is imposed upon them to agree. The concept is wide-ranging and includes parties being inclined to marry through physical pressure such as physical or sexual violence, as well as emotional and psychological abuse like manipulation and threats.  The government guidance provides more information on how to recognise a forced marriage at

Currently, it is a criminal offence under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to force a party into marriage where violence or coercion is used or if the person lacks capacity under the Mental Capacity Act 2005. This includes taking a party overseas to force them into a marriage, regardless of the minimum legal age of marriage in that third country.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 expands this, making it a criminal offence to carry out any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into a marriage. This widens the remit of the law and can include actions such as booking a venue or a flight for the purposes of a marriage.

In addition, both adults and children can seek legal protection from forced marriage in the civil courts through a Forced Marriage Protection Order. This is an injunction that prevents a party from carrying out certain activities towards or relating to the applicant such as physical violence, direct or indirect contact or making marriage arrangements.

This combination of criminal and civil protection, alongside the changes introduced by the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 provides a comprehensive structure in protecting people in England and Wales against forced marriages.

If you feel that you have concerns about forced marriage or have any other family law enquiries, Poole Alcock are able to help and support you through our team of expert family solicitors. Complete our online contact form for a call back from our team or call us on 0800 4700332.

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