Farewell, ‘Flexible’ Fudge: The position of unregistered religious marriages returns to square one

In a guest post, Russell Sandberg analyses the Court of Appeal’s conclusion on the legal status of unregistered religious marriages

In Akhter v Khan [2018] EWFC 54, Williams J applied what he called a ‘holistic’ and ‘flexible’ approach to hold that an unregistered religious marriage could be treated as a void marriage. His purposive reasoning meant that the parties would be able to seek financial remedy orders if the marriage broke down. The Attorney General appealed, on grounds that this made the law of marriage uncertain.

In Her Majesty’s Attorney General v Akhter & Anor [2020] EWCA Civ 122, the Court of Appeal agreed, putting Williams J’s approach back in its box. Unregistered religious marriages will not be seen as void marriages but rather as not as marriages at all: ‘non-qualifying ceremonies’. This means that the parties will be unable to seek financial remedy orders on relationship breakdown.

By setting aside William J’s order, a bold but controversial approach to providing rights to those in unregistered religious marriages has been closed down.  The Court of Appeal has re-established the previous position that Williams J’s flexibility sought to circumvent. Those in unregistered religious marriages now continue to lack remedies under marriage law. Continue reading