People normally think of consulting a family lawyer at the end of their marriage, but increasing numbers of clients are planning ahead, taking advice before they marry on matters such as pre-nuptial agreements and the protection of assets on the breakdown of their relationship.
While this might not seem a romantic subject for consideration, taking legal advice at an early stage can save a good deal of time and money at a later date. Before planning for the end of a marriage, however, couples need to attend to one legal requirement before it can take place, namely the filing of a Notice of Intention to Marry.
Previously, once a Notice of Intention had been filed at the relevant Registry Office, couples had to wait 15 consecutive days before they could marry. However, on 2 March 2015, there was a change in the law that affects people wishing to marry in England and Wales, such that, when filing a Notice of Intention to Marry at the Registry Office, the notice period increased from 15 to 28 days notice.
Why was this changed? In short, the Immigration Act 2014 increased the notice period from 15 days to 28 days in order to stop sham marriages, with the intention of decreasing the number of immigrants who use marriage as a way to remain in the United Kingdom.
For family lawyers, this is particularly significant when advising someone intending to marry whose partner is, or who themselves are, a non-EEA national and where that non-EEA national has limited or no immigration status in the UK. The Home Office will now be notified once such a couple gives notice of their intention to marry.
Further, the government has given the Home Office increased powers by allowing it to extend the notice period for up to 70 days, if the Home Office has suspicions about the reasons behind the marriage. In such cases, clients may have to be advised that, should they not co-operate, the Home Office can, if it has concerns, prevent the marriage from taking place.
A family lawyer can, therefore, not only help their clients plan for what may happen if their marriage breaks down, but also advise them in relation to the preliminary legalities required to enter into a marriage. If appropriate, clients might also be advised to seek specialist immigration advice to make sure that their special day can go ahead smoothly.
Sandeep Sandhu is a family law solicitor at Spratt Endicott
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