Jersey raises the age of marriage to 18 and other recent changes to marriage and civil partnership Laws

May 04, 2023 by Faye Walker

Jersey has recently made amendments to the Marriage and Civil Status (Jersey) Law 2001 (“the 2001 Law”) and the Civil Partnership (Jersey) Law 2012 (the “2012 Law”). These amendments ensure that both Laws align with not only Jersey’s Government policy, but also comply with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

Age of Marriage

Under the 2001 Law, children aged 16 and 17 were allowed to marry in Jersey with the consent of their parent or guardian. Whilst originally intended to be a safeguard, similar laws in other countries have been abused by parents to force a child to marry. Although this issue is not a particular concern within Jersey’s resident community, the 2001 Law was open to exploitation from people living off-Island who were able to legally marry here. The amended law rectifies this by raising the age of consent for marriage or entering into a civil partnership from 16 to 18 years of age. This means that, regardless of their domicile, anyone getting married in Jersey must be over the age of 18. Similarly, if a person who was domiciled in Jersey chose to marry abroad in a jurisdiction where child marriage was legal that marriage would not be recognised in Jersey.

Alternative location in addition to an open-air location

Jersey is renowned for being the sunniest place in the British Isles and many couples have taken advantage of the Island’s beauty by having open-air weddings. This was particularly prevalent during the height of Covid-19, when socialising was restricted to outdoor events. Nevertheless, Jersey is still subject to unpredictable British weather, and there’s always the risk with an open-air wedding that the Bride and Groom’s first dance will be “Ironic” by Alanis Morissette. The amended law therefore provides that an alternative approved indoor location may be used if it looks “like rain on your wedding day”.

Registration of name and confusing, embarrassing or offensive names

Prior to the amendment, it was possible for a child to remain nameless indefinitely. Jersey follows the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, under which a child has a right to an identity. With this in mind, a child must be registered with a name within three months of the birth. If a child has still not been given a name by then the Minister for Home Affairs can name the child and the parents would have up to one year to change it. Any confusing, embarrassing, or offensive names will also be prohibited.

Abolition of wife’s domicile of dependence

Unlike in England and Wales, where this change was made in the 1970s, under Jersey law a wife’s domicile was that of her husband. This means that, amongst other things, her options as to where to issue proceedings would have been very limited if she wanted to divorce him. By abolishing this law, Jersey renounces the outdated concept of the wife “belonging to” the husband, which was not only discriminatory but also non-compliant with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The changes will inevitably impact divorce, whereby a Jersey domiciled woman can now choose to issue divorce proceedings in Jersey even if they have been living elsewhere and her husband is domiciled elsewhere.

Civil Partnerships

Civil Partnerships were introduced in Jersey in 2012 to provide same sex couples with the same rights and responsibilities that would be acquired through marriage of opposite sex couples. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Partnership Act 2004 for England and Wales was discriminatory because opposite sex couples were excluded from entering civil partnerships. This created the unusual situation whereby same sex couples had the choice of marriage or civil partnership, but opposite sex couples were restricted to marriage only. The amendments to the Civil Partnership Law therefore remove this discrimination as well as raise the minimum age of civil partnership to 18 to align the process to enter into a civil partnership to mirror that of marriage. Married couples may also convert their marriage to a civil partnership.

What are the differences between a marriage and a civil partnership?

There are few notable differences:

  • marriage is formed by vows, whereas a civil partnership is formed by signing the civil partnership document; and
  • marriages are ended by divorce, whereas civil partnerships are ended by dissolution, although the process is fundamentally the same.

While civil partnerships do not come with the same traditional and religious connotations, the rights and obligations are almost identical to those of marriage.

With these changes to civil partnership, Jersey couples, irrespective of gender, now have more flexibility than ever over how they formalise their relationships. If you would like further information to understand what each option means for you and your family then please contact us.