Getting married in Ireland – the legal side

Getting married in Ireland

You’ve gotten engaged.  You’re full of excitement.  You start looking at venues, bands, dresses. You pick your wedding party. And somewhere along the way you realise there is a legal process which needs to be completed in order to get married. This often results in confusion, panic in some cases, and stress. Hopefully this article will help you navigate the system a bit easier.  

The 3 conditions

In order for your marriage to be valid you must obey 3 conditions

  1. You must have the capacity to marry each other. (You need to be ABLE to get married – this means over 18 years of age, not currently married and not closely related)
  2. You must freely consent to the marriage. (You have to WANT to get married – seems obvious but you must be incapable of giving consent due to mental illness or disability)
  3. You must observe the marriage notification process as required by the laws of Ireland  (You must give 3 months’ notice)

First things first.

I think the first thing you need to do is decide what kind of a ceremony you want.  There are a number of choices and this is where the confusion sometimes starts. Here is a  brief list of the options currently available for getting married in Ireland.

  • Church ceremony – religious ceremony, legal ceremony as Priests are registered solemnisers (someone who are authorised to sign the marriage certificate).  The church have its own rules that must be adhered to along with the HSE requirements.
  • Civil ceremony – legal ceremony performed by a HSE registrar, can be performed in an approved venue.These ceremonies cannot contain any religious reference.  Can be personalised but generally follow a set script.
  • Humanist ceremony – legal, secular ceremony, adheres to the Humanist ethos of no religion.
  • Spiritualist/Interfaith/ Other – these are considered legal religious ceremonies.  
  • Independent Ceremony – performed by an independent celebrant, the legal side must be completed by the HSE separately.  No restrictions as the legals are completed separately.

That is a brief breakdown of the choices available for getting married in Ireland and it is really a personal choice, although in some cases availability of a celebrant is also a factor.  In the case of an independent ceremony, the legal side is completed by the HSE, with the independent celebrant performing the public celebration of the marriage. This is a common practice throughout Europe.

Is your venue approved?

If you decide to hold your legal ceremony in a hotel or other venue, you’ll need to make sure that your venue meets the requirements of the HSE.

Most venues will let you know if they are approved but if you’re not sure you’ll have to check with the Registrar before you go ahead organising anything else.

The venue must be able to hold the capacity of those attending the ceremony.

HSE guidelines state that a marriage cannot be held in outdoor areas like a “private dwelling, a courtyard, garden, yard, or field,” however in recent years, it became legal to be married in certain, approved outdoor areas.  Always check with the Registrar to make sure.  

The guidelines around venues apply to any wedding ceremony which is legally binding.  Independent ceremonies and vow renewals/blessings do not have to adhere to these guidelines as the legals are completed separately. 

What next?

When you have decided on the type of ceremony you want and have your venue and date sorted, you should contact the HSE to make an appointment to give notification of intent to marry.  This can be done at any registrars office and does not need to be in the location of your venue. If you are having a civil ceremony with the HSE registrar, you should give notification in the locality of the venue as it will likely be that registrar who conducts the ceremony.  

The notification must be given at least 3 months in advance of the wedding date.  This does not mean you leave it until 3 months before. You can give notification at any time within the year prior to the wedding date. it is best to get it done rather than leave it until the last minute.  Some offices are extremely busy with backlogs. it can be a cause of anxiety for couples when they ring their HSE office and find out they cannot give notification there within the time-frame. So better to get it ticked off the list early.  

If you are having an independent ceremony you would make 2 appointments, the initial one to give the notification and a second to sign the legal papers.  

What do I need to bring with me?

Below is a list of paperwork to bring with you to your notification appointment.  Different offices can sometimes ask for different documents, so it is best to check with them beforehand by phone if you have any queries.

  • passport
  • refugee card / asylum card issued by Department of Justice and Equality
  • national identity card from an EU country accepting them as a travel document.  Photo ID documents must be in date
  • the original and photocopy of your birth certificates
  • proof of address – original and photocopy dated within last 3 months
  • your PPS numbers
  • If your documents are not in English or Irish you must provide translations.

If you have been widowed, divorced or had an annulment of a previous marriage you will need additional documents.  See useful links below for full details.

The fee for giving notification is currently €200.  This is the same no matter what type of ceremony you have.  The notification appointment does not take too long, maybe 30 minutes.  

You should download and complete the data capture form and bring it with you.  Click here to download.  

If the Registrar is happy that you have provided all the relevant documents you will be issued with your Marriage Registration Form (MRF).  This is a green book and it is this that the Registrar or Solemniser signs to make the marriage legal.  Depending on the type of ceremony you will be either given the book to bring with you on the day or the Registrar will hold on to it, usually only if they are the ones to marry you.  Keep this book safe as without it the marriage cannot be legally registered.

Ceremony details

You will have to give details of your ceremony at the appointment such as whether it is civil, religious or secular.  You will be asked for the location and time. You will also need the details of the proposed solemniser. In the case of an independent ceremony, the HSE themselves are the solemniser as they are completing the legal side, so it is simply a case of asking at the appointment who the solemniser will be and the details will be filled in at the appointment.  


If your birth certificate is not issued by the Civil Registration Service in Ireland it must bear an apostille stamp from the relevant embassy (if possible) or a letter from that embassy attesting the authenticity of the certificate should be supplied. This does not apply to birth certificates issued by Denmark, Italy, France, Belgium, Estonia, Romania or Latvia.

You may also be asked to provide a Letter or Certificate of Freedom to Marry or other documentary confirmation of your civil status from your country of origin – contact the Registrar to check if this will be required.

Links to useful websites

Yvonne Cassidy is a wedding celebrant, stylist and coordinator.  Based in Dublin, Ireland, Yvonne works nationwide with couples, helping them to design their dream wedding.  From the ceremony to the look and feel of the day, Yvonne works in collaboration with the couple to bring their vision to life.  Click here to find out more about working together.

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