Marriage Caveats: What can I do to stop a predatory marriage?
Previously in the Capacity and Marriage Blog Series
In his latest article, my colleague David Wedgwood discusses “predatory marriages”, with reference to where vulnerable and often elderly individuals are married without the capacity to do that. My colleague Alexandra Knipe had earlier discussed the legal test for capacity to marry. In these circumstances, the “predator” would inherit their estate under the intestacy rules, as marriage automatically revokes any pre-existing Will.
The Procedure to Put in Place a Marriage Caveat
If there are concerns that a relative or friend may be subject to a predatory marriage, then it is sometimes possible to prevent that from happening. One way of doing this is to put in place a caveat at their local registry office. The procedure for this is set out under s.29 of Marriage Act 1989. Any person can enter a caveat with any superintendent registrar under the Marriage Act 1949.
- The caveat is in force until the superintendent registrar has examined the matter and decided either that the marriage should go ahead, or the person who entered it has withdrawn it.
- If the superintendent has doubts on whether it should or shouldn’t go ahead then they may refer the matter to the Registrar General.
- If a marriage is obstructed by the superintendent registrar, then a relevant party can appeal to the Registrar General who can either confirm the refusal to marry or confirm that the marriage should proceed.
- If a caveat is entered and deemed frivolous then they can be liable for costs of the proceedings before the Registrar General and for damages recoverable by the person whose marriage the caveat was entered.
In practice, putting in place a caveat involves calling your local registry office with the following details:
- The details of the party(ies)
- The name and address of the objector
- The grounds of the objection
In terms of showing grounds for and objection, a medical assessment from a GP, or a Doctor setting out the concerns over an individual’s capacity to marry is usual.
The superintendent registrar would then enter the caveat on their online system for non-religious venues across England and Wales. If a notice of marriage is entered at any time in the future, it will be linked to the caveat and the matter will be investigated.
It would be for the person whose marriage the caveat was entered against to appeal the caveat to the Registrar General.
Safeguarding Vulnerable Individuals
Unfortunately putting in place a caveat is not a fail safe way to prevent a predatory marriage taking place.
Discovering the intention of a predatory marriage can be difficult. Although 28 days’ notice is required, many people do not search at the local registry office – it is not put on the internet.
There are calls to change the law to safeguard vulnerable individuals in this area, however in the meantime it is important that if there are concerns concerns that an individual might be coerced in to a marriage, or exploited in this manner; then the local authority and police should be notified.
Furthermore, consideration should be given to putting in place a caveat, if appropriate.
It is important to note that the registry office cannot put in place a caveat to prevent a marriage at a religious venue. Hence extra vigilance is needed in terms of checking whether the banns have been read at a local church and putting a local church on notice of any concerns.