Marriage Law in Ireland

1. Society defines Marriage

2. Marriage in Ireland today

3. Requirements for Marriage

4. Registration of Marriage

5. The Purpose of Marriage

6. Spouses' Duties

7. Spouses' Rights

8. Changing your Name

9. Taxation of marr couples

10 Pre-Nuptial Contracts

11. Registry Office Website

12. Irish Constitution, Art. 41


Society defines marriage

As old as human records: The significant commitment to union between a man and a woman that we call marriage is witnessed to in written contracts since ancient times - almost as far back as the invention of writing.

A bond of interdepency between a man and a woman: As a human structure valued worldwide, marriage is a formal, public agreement made between a man and a woman to live in agreed forms of interdependency, usually for the purpose of founding and maintaining families. Monogamy is the most widely accepted form of marriage world-wide. Children's need of nurturing and education before reaching maturity, is the main social incentive for developing the structures of marital and family law.

Locally defined: The legal norms governing marriage are set by the particular society in which it is found. (In a cross-cultural marriage, it is especially vital that these norms be clearly understood and agreed between the parties). Within these broad norms each couple is free to work out their own, mutually agreeable forms of marital harmony.


Marriage in Ireland today

The traditional definition was: "The voluntary union for life, of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others. "For life" is no longer part of the legal definition of marriage. Since our law allows divorce, "for life" is not in the civil definition. A Marriage is valid "indefinitely" or "until dissolved by a competent court".

"Union" is the essential word, qualified by "exclusive" - which refers to sexual fidelity. The heterosexual nature of marriage is axiomatic in most jurisdictions, though recently this has changed in some countries and it is currently being questioned in others, such as in Ireland. Some seek a referendum on this issue, with a view to changing the drift of Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland. (click here for Article 41)

The monogamous nature of marriage is generally accepted; the main exception is Islamic Sharia law which allows for polygamy, where a man can have up to four wives, based on ancient, patriarchal tradition.



Legal requirements regarding the Parties

1. “The Age of Maturity”. From August 1, 1996 (under the family Law Act, 1995) the minimum age at which an Irish resident may contract a marriage valid in Irish law is eighteen years of age, whether the marriage takes place in Ireland or elsewhere. This also applies to all non-residents who are marrying in the State. Persons applying to marry in the State must provide evidence of age and identity. Parental consent is no longer needed for a marriage. (family Law Act, 1995).

2. “Sanity”. Any person certified as insane, and committed to the care and custody of trustees, cannot marry until declared sane.

3. “Not already married”. Any purported marriage by a person who is already legally married, is void.

4. " Not Consanguine" . The parties must be “outside the prohibited degrees of kindred”, i.e. not siblings or first cousins, in order to avoid "consanguinity".

5. “Declaration of Intent”. Prior declaration of Intent to enter a marriage must be made by the parties, on the required form, to the Civil Registrar, at least 90 days before the date of marriage. A Marriage Notification and Civil Partnership Notification Fee (€200) is payable to the Registrar's office (Ouch!).



Registration of a marriage

It is vital that the couple get from the Registrar's office a Marriage Registration Form.

Getting the MRF: If there is no impediment to your marriage, the Registrar will issue you with a Marriage Registration Form (MRF) giving you permission to marry.

Signing the MRF: Before the ceremony, you should give the MRF to your marriage- solemniser . Immediately after the ceremony the MRF should be signed by you and your spouse, the two witnesses and the solemniser .

Returning the MRF: If you get married by civil ceremony, the Registrar who solemnised the marriage will register the marriage as soon as possible after the ceremony. If you get married by religious ceremony, you should give the signed MRF within one month to any Registrar (not necessarily the one who issued it), for the marriage to be registered.

If the completed MRF is not returned to a Registrar within 56 days of the intended date of marriage recorded on the MRF, the Registrar can serve a notice on you requiring you to return the MRF within 14 days of receiving the notice. If you do not comply with this requirement, the Registrar can serve a notice on you requiring you to attend on a particular date at the office of the Registrar (or other place given in the notice) with the completed MRF. If you are unable to give the MRF to the Registrar when you meet, you have a further 14 days to give it. You cannot get your civil marriage certificate until the marriage is registered.

Registration of marriages outside Ireland:
Marriages of Irish citizens abroad are registered in the country where they occur. A marriage certificate issued abroad will normally be recognised, for legal purposes, here in Ireland. The General Register Office in the Republic of Ireland has no function in the registration of marriages of Irish citizens that take place abroad, or in advising on such marriages. Marriages that take place outside the State do not need to be registered in Ireland.

Applying for a civil marriage certificate

The Marriage Register entries are public records and anybody can obtain copies of them. You can apply in writing, by fax or in person giving as many details of the marriage as you can, i.e. full names, date and location of event, parent's names and occupations, mother's maiden names etc. Obviously the more information you can give us the more chance we have of finding the records you are looking for.

Data we need: Our index and records are date based and are in a manual format so we will need accurate dates (correct year at least). The absolute minimum information we need is the forename and surname (of both parties if it's a marriage) and the year the event occurred and in many cases we will need some further detail/s such as an exact date, the location of the event, other forenames, parents names etc. (General Register Office)

Church Certificate of Marriage can be had from the parish priest where the wedding takes place, but you may need a civil certificate of your marriage for various legal and civil purposes.


Changing Your Name

Getting married traditionally involves the bride changing her maiden name to the surname of her new husband. Although this remains a popular choice, it is not a legal pre-requisite and there are other options open to you. You could retain your maiden name, choose a double barrelled surname, keep your maiden name as your middle name or even have your husband change his name!

Retaining Your Middle Name
If you choose the option of retaining your maiden name, this has the clear advantage of there being no need to change any of your documents. A good choice for those who are in a profession where their names are well known, and to change surnames could be detrimental.

A Double Barrelled Surname
To change your name so that you have a hyphenated surname which combines both of your surnames is a little more complicated. If you decide on this option then make sure you make arrangements well in advance of your wedding so that the changes are immediate as soon as the wedding is over. If you would like to see this name on all of your documents then you will have to do this via Deed Poll. The best (and cheapest) way of doing this is for your husband to change his name before the wedding (he should start the ball rolling at least two or three months in advance). That way, you will be able to take on his new name straight after the wedding and will not have to go via Deed Poll.

Changing His Name
It is possible for the groom to change his name if you both prefer. This makes things very simple for the bride. The groom can start using the bride's surname straight after the wedding. Unlike the traditional method where the bride takes on the groom's name, the groom must go through Deed Poll to change all his official records and documents.

Using Your Maiden Name as a Middle Name
A good way of keeping your maiden name incorporated in your name is to make it your middle name. To do this and have all your records and documents changed accordingly, you need to change your name by Deed Poll after your marriage.

Using Both Names
Changing your name, especially in certain professions such as acting, can sometimes be deemed detrimental to the career. Many brides like to keep the option of using their maiden name for this reason, but also enjoy the tradition of taking on their husbands name too. You can legally pick and choose in which circumstances you are called by your maiden name and which by your married name. Of course this can create financial and legal confusion, which is why many brides eventually do choose to take on their husband's name.

What You Need To Consider, If You Take On Your Husband's Name
If you decide to go with the traditional procedure of taking on your husband's name, then although you do not need to go through Deed Poll, and you want the new name on your documents, you will need to notify various agencies of your change of name, supplying proof of marriage in most cases. Think carefully about all formal aspects of your life so that your name is changed on all the right documents.

Your current passport is the one you will use when going abroad on your Honeymoon. On your return, if you wish to change to your new name on your passport, you can contact the Passport Office and apply for a new passport using the necessary forms, which are usually available from any Garda Station. You will need to supply your marriage certificate before you can get your name changed.

Other Documents
There are lots of companies and parts of your life that you need to consider as you change your name, most of which will need to be notified in writing. Write a standard letter informing people of your name change and attach a photocopy of your marriage certificate to each. Government departments, Banks and Building Societies will need to see the original document to make the changes but most other establishments will simply need a photocopy.

Below are most of the organisations you may need to advise of your change of name:

  • Bank
  • Building society (mortgage and/or savings accounts)
  • Credit card and store cards
  • Clubs and societies
  • Dentist
  • Department of Health & Social Security
  • Doctor
  • Driving Licence Association
  • Employer
  • Email address change?
  • Finance/loan companies
  • Inland Revenue
  • Institutes such as universities etc.
  • Insurance companies
  • Investment companies including premium bonds and shares
  • Mail order catalogue companies
  • Car organisations
  • Passport office
  • Pension company


The Purpose of Marriage

Irish Law does not stipulate any formal purpose for marriage, although Art. 41 of our Constitution implies one, when affirming an essential link between marriage and the family, which is the nucleus of society. So far as the law is concerned, a couple may enter a legal monogamous union for whatever purpose they espouse or aspire to....

Catholic Canon Law declares two purposes for marriage:
1) the good of the couple, (i.e. the forming of a real union-of-life) and
2) procreation & education of children. (can. 1055).

To be sacramentally married in the Catholic Church, the couple must accept both of these purposes as integral to their marriage.

Who gets the better deal, in a marriage?
As to which party (bride or groom) gets the most out of the marriage, no simple answer is available.
However, only a marriage where both parties feel fairly treated is likely to be happy and lasting.


Spouses' duties towards each other

Who is the "Head of the Household"? Traditionally, and with apparent Biblical sanction (St. Paul to the Ephesians 5:21) the husband was "Head" of the Household. This was reflected also in the civil law of marriage. And up to the 1960s, in the Catholic wedding vows the wife promised to "love, honour and obey" her husband.

In civil law, the obligation of a wife to obey her husband has long lapsed, at least in the western democracies. In an age when the equal dignity of men and women is increasingly defended by the law, husband and wife are now seen as joint heads of their familial household. In this new context, decisions affecting them both cannot be simply decreed by the husband, but must be reached by mutual agreement. This implies a radical agreement to negotiate, in an ongoing fashion, the details of their marital union.

In practice, the obligation "to love and honour" each other might now be expanded to read:"to love, honour and negotiate!"

The principal duty of a spouse is fidelity to the [exclusive] union. Other duties are implicit, and usually emerge only if litigation arises.

Partnership of Life
Under Canon [i.e. Church] Law, spouses are called to establish a "partnership of their whole life" ("consortium totius vitae" Canon no. 1055). Reflect on what content to give to this evocative phrase.

A duty of Support
Common-Law obliges a husband to support his wife. While there is no reciprocal formally-stated duty on wives to provide for their husbands, such may be inferred from the equality provisions in the family Law Act 1976. In case of dispute, levels of maintenance can be set by the family Court.

Conjugal Rights?
The Irish family Law Act 1988 abolished the action for Restitution of Conjugal Rights, on the basis that legal sanction to oblige people to live with their spouses would be contrary to modern values. However, prolonged failure to do so can become grounds for Legal Separation.


A Spouse's Rights

The main rights implicit in the marriage union would seem to be these:

Corresponding to the duty of fidelity is some implicit right to intimacy. A spouse's right to physical integrity is still protected by law. The physical union of intercourse is by mutual consent and may not be imposed unilaterally.

Financial Support
A wife has an unspecific but real right to some financial support from her husband. In case of dispute, a determinate level of maintenance can be set by the family Court.

Joint Taxation
Spouses may jointly elect to be taxed either individually or as a couple, whichever they agree is to their mutual benefit.

The surviving spouse is the primary beneficiary of his/her deceased spouse's estate.

Other rights
Rights to respectful treatment, normal communication, sharing in household duties, a fair share in determining how the income of the household is spent - are implicit, and can be tested by litigation. Decisions by the family Court are based what is "fair", with due regard to modern values in marriage. As of the present, these are unwritten rules, and so, to an extent, in a state of negotiable flux.


Legal Recourse for Spouses

The law may be invoked to settle disagrements between spouses. Some sort of unwritten norms to regulate what is expected between spouses is implicit in this fact. The general criterion that seems to be operative is that of "fairness" within the present social understanding of the marriage bond, in Ireland.

Declaration of Nullity: Under unusual conditions, a seemingly valid marriage may be declared invalid because of some defect relating to the form of the ceremony, or the person or state of mind of either party at the time of the ceremony. It is essential that the defect was already present at the time that the marriage was celebrated.

A decree of divorce legally dissolves an existing contract of marriage on the basis of facts occurring after the contract was entered into.

"No fault" divorce describes any divorce where the spouse asking for a divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse did something wrong. Most countries nowadays allow no fault divorces. To get a no fault divorce, one spouse must simply state a reason for the divorce that is recognized by the state. In most states, it's enough to declare that the couple cannot get along (this reason goes by such names as "incompatibility," "irreconcilable differences," or "irremediable breakdown of the marriage"). In some countries, like Ireland, the couple must live apart for a period of years before they can obtain a no fault divorce.

Less drastic measures, e.g.: family Home Protection Act 1976; family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act 1981. Appeal can be made to the family Court for the redress of perceived injustices in the allotment of available funds. Maintenance and Barring orders can be issued, to protect the rights of a spouse and/or the children in a family.

Amicable settlement is preferable: Clearly, it is preferable that any disputed aspect of a marriage should be settled between the spouses themselves, without needing recourse to outside adjudication. But the law provides some kind of "safety net" for otherwise unresolvable disagreements.


Taxation of a Married Couple

The regulations on the Taxation of a Married Couple are laid out clearly on the Revenue Website. The main point is that the couple may opt to be jointly taxed, or, if it is to their advantage, they may opt to be taxed as two separate individuals.


Pre-nuptial Contracts

Present situation: Pre-nuptial contracts purporting to establish the division of assets in the even of the couple's separation, have [as yet] no validity in Irish Law. Reason: Such contracts are deemed to undermine the stability and firmness of the marriage union.

Clear division of property rights: A prenuptial agreement entered into by a couple intending to marry, seeks to determine the right of each in relation to any property, debts, income and other assets they have brought into their relationship, or that they acquired together while married. It is intended to allow the parties to protect their separate property and other assets, in the event of separation or divorce. The rationale is that under current Irish law, once a couple marry all their assets become matrimonial assets and are thrown into a single, shared pot. A prenuptial agreement is made with the intends to contract out of this scenario so that the parties are treated as if they have never been married.

Protection from the other's debts: A prenuptial agreement usually seeks also to allow each party to be protected from the other's debts that were incurred before the marriage. With the amount of personal debt that many individuals have today this can be just as important as protecting the family home. Formerly, such agreements made before marriage, attempting to influence the way in which assets would be allocated in future, were null and void, in the eyes of the Irish Courts. However, some now opine that a formal prenuptial agreement will be taken into account in the future, as a factor to be considered, when determining financial relief on separation or divorce.

Prospects for the future? This provision could, of course, change in the near future, shifting the priority away from the social stability of the marriage bond, in favour of the individual's property-rights. Some argue that the civil validation of Pre-nuptial contracts would have a weakening effect on the stability of some marriages. Others believe that allowing for Pre-Nuptial Contracts would help some people decide to take the step and marry.

Practical Suggestion: After our Pre-Marriage Course, we suggest each partner write a pre-nuptial letter of friendship -- a love-letter, if you will -- which in a climate of esteem and affection, may provides opportunity to raise any point about which either party is uneasy or anxious, and which should be more fully discussed between them before the wedding takes place.



Registry Office Website

As a modern pre-marriage course, we keep abreast of changes in the social outlook on marriage as well as changes that are proposed or projected in marriage law in Ireland. Your first call for the latest regulations about marriage in Ireland should be the Registry Office Website, Tel. 090-663-2900; Lo-Call 1890-252-076... Online, in their section Getting Married you can download the necessary Declaration-of-Intent form etc. Also, they offer on a large spreadsheet all the names of marriage solemnisers in the ROI, with full address for each entry. (Here at Together, we provide this list in summary form: names and phone numbers only).

In Brief

Our society and law still values marriage as a durable union, entered into by consenting adults, only after mature consideration of their own and their partner's personality, capacities and ideals.

The intent to get "fully" married, in a full, not a provisional commitment for life..implies agreement between the parties to a modern marriage:

"to Love, Honour and Negotiate!"

Marriage in the Constitution (Article 41)


1° The State recognises the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.

2° The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State.


 1° In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.

2° The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.


1° The State pledges itself to guard with special care the institution of Marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.

2° A Court designated by law may grant a dissolution of marriage where, but only where, it is satisfied that ­

  1. At the date of the institution of the proceedings, the spouses have lived apart from one another for a period of, or periods amounting to, at least four years during the five years,
  2.  there is no reasonable prospect of a reconciliation between the spouses,
  3. such provision as the Court considers proper having regard to the circumstances exists or will be made for the spouses, any children of either or both of them and any other person prescribed by law, and
  4. any further conditions prescribed by law are complied with.

3° No person whose marriage has been dissolved under the civil law of any other State but is a subsisting valid marriage under the law for the time being in force within the jurisdiction of the Government and Parliament established by this Constitution shall be capable of contracting a valid marriage within that jurisdiction during the lifetime of the other party to the marriage so dissolved.