Marriages and civil partnerships: advice and guidance
Published: March 2021
Welcome to Belfast
Your special day
Locations for your civil ceremony
Arranging a civil ceremony
Civil partnership ceremonies
Ceremonies at approved venues
On the day of the ceremony
The wedding ceremony
The civil partnership ceremony
Thank you for deciding to hold your ceremony here in the city of Belfast. We hope you will find this booklet useful as you go about making your arrangements.
Queen Victoria granted Belfast ‘city’ status in 1888. It is now a popular short-break destination and one of Europe’s top visitor destinations.
It is situated on Belfast Lough at the point where two rivers converge. It also straddles the boundaries of counties Antrim and Down.
As a city, Belfast is compact and intimate. Much of its rich legacy of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture remains intact and many buildings have been revitalised with contemporary design.
Evidence of its industrial history can be found beneath the twin cranes in the Harland and Wolff shipyard and in the references to the linen trade in street and place names.
Places of interest abound including vibrant shopping centres, the lively Cathedral Quarter, Queen’s University, historic buildings and many new hotels and restaurants.
Legislation allows you to get married or form a civil partnership in the Belfast Registration Office or in one of the approved venues within the district.
In a city as large as Belfast, there are plenty of options to consider for your celebrations. There is a selection of premises to choose from, many of which provide an excellent backdrop for your photographs.
The Belfast District registration staff will be most happy to assist in making your special day a memorable occasion.
The Registration Office
You can have your civil ceremony in our Ceremony Room at the Registration Office in Belfast City Hall. We have a number of experienced registrars available to perform ceremonies and the office can accommodate up to five ceremonies each day. The room is available for viewing by prior appointment during normal office working hours.
We offer a marriage or civil partnership where the couple have only the two legally required witnesses present. This is available at limited times and terms and conditions apply. Ask the registrar for further advice.
The council also owns several approved venues including Belfast Castle, Malone House, the Waterfront Hall and the Ulster Hall. Registrars can visit all these venues to perform civil ceremonies.
See our approved venues page for details.
Other approved venues include hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and similar public places.
Don’t forget to give notice of your marriage or civil partnership at Belfast City Hall before you start making any other arrangements
If you want to book a date more than 12 months in advance, you may make a provisional booking. Easter until October is the busiest season and particularly on Fridays and Saturdays. Bookings are often made up to two years in advance, so if you want to make sure you can arrange your ceremony for a particular date and time, make a booking as soon as possible.
If you want a date within 12 months, you may make a definite booking by submitting your Marriage Notice Forms as described later.
Marriage Notice Forms are available from nidirect's website (link opens in new window) or from any Northern Ireland District Registration Office.
How and when to submit marriage notice forms
Notice of Marriage lasts for 12 months from the date of notice. Both parties should each complete a marriage notice form and bring or send their forms to the Registrar. All fees should accompany the notice forms and any documents that are needed. Please contact the office to arrange an appointment by calling 028 9027 0455.
The notice takes effect on the date that the Registrar receives the two notice forms, fees and documents. Then the earliest possible marriage ceremony would be 28 days later.
Weekday ceremonies may be:
Monday: 11am, 12 noon, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm
Tuesday - Thursday: 10am, 11am, 12 noon, 2pm, 3pm and 4pm
Friday: 11am, 12 noon, 2pm and 3pm
Documents you must produce
Please note: all documents must be originals. Please don’t send photocopies and if they are not in English, bring a certified translation. You must produce documents as early as possible before the wedding. Failure to do so will mean postponement.
Consent to marry
If you are aged 16 or 17 years you will need to provide proof of consent. Forms are available from the Registrar.
You must produce a full version of your birth certificate.
- If you are widowed you must produce your spouse’s death certificate.
- If you are divorced you must produce a copy of your Decree Absolute. If a woman has been divorced and her Decree Absolute uses her married name she will need to provide her previous marriage certificate.
- Everyone must produce a passport or national identity card.
- If you don’t hold a passport or national identity card, you should contact the Registrar to obtain advice on acceptable alternative documents
- A person who is not a UK, EEA or Swiss National is required to complete an Immigration Status Statement and provide supporting evidence. The ISS form is available on our website or we can post one out to you. The form must be submitted along with the notice forms.
- For more information go to www.nidirect.gov.uk (link opens in new window)
Civil partnership and marriage ceremonies follow the same process and attract the same fees. Both partners must complete the civil partnership notice forms and provide the same legal documents that are needed for a marriage.
Marriages and civil partnerships can also be performed at approved venues. Ceremonies at venues take place at:
- 12 noon or 3pm weekdays; and
- 12 noon and 3pm on Saturdays.
When you check availability with an approved venue, you will be given an AP1 Form. Once you’ve completed this form, you should check the availability of a Registrar as soon as possible. It is advisable not to pay any deposit to the venue until you’ve confirmed that a registrar is available. When you have done this, you must follow the procedure for giving notice. It is the same as the one we have outlined for a ceremony in the Registry Office.
Fees for a ceremony at an approved venue are different from those at the Registry Office. (View our current prices).
You must agree the choice of music in advance with the Registrar and with the approved venue. Each couple is responsible for providing the music they would like to have played at their ceremony.
This must be non-religious and may be played at the times shown below.
a. As the guests are being seated in the Ceremony Room
b. Entering the Ceremony Room
c. During the signing of the Schedule
d. Exit of couple
Please note that this is a busy office and we may have ceremonies every hour. To be fair to other couples, it is essential that you keep to your timetable, or we may have to reschedule your ceremony.
Pedestrian access is through the main entrance of the City Hall. There will usually be parking available in the rear courtyard only. This can accommodate up to two vehicles from Monday to Friday and up to four vehicles on a Saturday. A stretch limousine may count as two vehicles.
You must book your cars in and supply all vehicle registration numbers to City Hall security at least a week before your ceremony. Parking is not guaranteed.
Your ceremony in City Hall includes photo opportunities on the marble staircase after the ceremony. You will be informed if for any reason that is not possible. The time available is 15 minutes.
You need two witnesses over the age of 16 years to sign the schedule. Dress is your choice – casual or formal wear. You can choose to carry flowers and you may also bring fresh flowers for the room. Rings are not essential but may be given or exchanged. Ushers can be very helpful but are not essential for your ceremony. The Registrar will be busy with the couple and cannot direct guests. We would recommend ushers for a large ceremony.
The ceremony room holds a maximum of 70 people including the couple, registrar and the two witnesses. All guests must be seated.
We would encourage you to have photographs of your ceremony. If you aren’t having a professional photographer, your guests can take photographs with your permission. The Registrar will make an announcement regarding photographs before the ceremony and clarify any boundaries with the photographer.
You may also video the ceremony.
If you would prefer your ceremony not to be shared on social media, let the Registrar know and they will inform your guests.
Smoking is not permitted anywhere on the premises. This includes electronic cigarettes.
Where an interpreter is required or requested, the registration office will be pleased to advise you about how this can be arranged.
The most popular way to play music is a playlist on a smart phone. You will need to nominate one of your guests to operate this for you. You can bring your music on a CD if you prefer, which the Registrar will operate.
We have a Bose system in the ceremony room and can provide non-religious music for you if needed. We also welcome live musicians.
Enhancing your ceremony
You can enhance your ceremony and make it more personal in a number of ways:
- your own music
- your own vows
- non-religious reading
- hand tying ceremony
- sand ceremony
Speak to the Registrar about any of these options by calling 028 9027 0455.
The following are not permitted:
- religious words or music
- confetti, rice or candles
- animals – other than guide dogs
20 minutes before the ceremony
Party one, the witness and any ushers must be with the Registrar to complete final details.
10 minutes before ceremony
Party two, the witness (and person giving either party away, if relevant) must be with the Registrar to complete final details.
At ceremony time
Either party may be given away or the couple may enter the room together.
The Registrar commences by welcoming everyone with some words of introduction and generally sets the scene.
Optional: At this point, one of your guests may read a non-religious verse. The full text and the name of person who will say the verse must be sent to the Registrar before the wedding day.
Then the Registrar will prompt each of the parties to say the following two legal declarations. There is no need to be nervous as the Registrar will just ask each of you to repeat them slowly, a phrase at a time.
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I [name] may not be joined in matrimony to [name]
I call upon these persons here present to witness that I [name] do take you [name] to be my lawful wedded wife/husband
At this point, an extra vow may be included so we suggest this popular one which the Registrar will ask each of you in turn:
Will you solemnly promise that you will always protect this woman (or man) with your utmost care, that you will honour and cherish her (or him) in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer and that in all things you will be to her (or him) a faithful and loving husband (or wife)
All you have to reply is “I will”
Or if you want an extra vow of your own, which you (not the Registrar) will say to each other - you must submit the text for our approval at least two weeks before the wedding day.
Rings: If you are using rings - the Registrar will prompt you to say “I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and of our marriage today.” Optional: Today you have pledged your commitment to each other. May you always begin each day with fresh hope in your hearts. May you have happiness by being happy with one another and may you find love in loving one another.
Signing and photos: The Registrar declares you are married, the schedule is signed by and both parties and two witnesses. Then there is time for photographs while the Registrar leaves the room to prepare a copy of your marriage certificate.
20 minutes after ceremony time
The Registrar presents a certificate to the couple.
25 minutes after ceremony time
By this time, all the wedding party and guests should be leaving the City Hall.
20 minutes before ceremony
The couple, their witnesses and any Ushers must be with the Registrar to complete final details, unless arriving separately when ten minutes should be allowed between the arrival of each partner.
At ceremony time
The Registrar commences by welcoming everyone, says some words of introduction and generally sets the scene
Optional: At this point, one guest may read a non-religious verse. The full text and the name of person who will say the verse must be sent to Registrar before the day of the ceremony.
If wished either or both parties may be given away at this point. (The couple have the option to say the following two declarations). There is no need to be nervous as the Registrar will just ask each of you to repeat them slowly, a phrase at a time.
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I [name] may not register a civil partnership with [name]
I call upon these persons here present to witness that I [name] do take you [name] as my partner for life
Optional: An extra vow may be included so we suggest this popular one, which the Registrar will ask each of you in turn:-
Either: Will you solemnly promise that you will always protect this woman (or man) with your utmost care, that you will honour and cherish her (or him) in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer and that in all things you will be to her (or him) a faithful and loving partner?
All you have to reply is “I will”
Or: if you want an extra vow of your own, which you (not the Registrar) will say to each other - you must submit the text for our approval at least two weeks before the civil partnership day.
Rings: if you are using rings - the Registrar will prompt you to say “I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and of our Partnership today.”
Optional: today you have pledged your commitment to each other. May you always begin each day with fresh hope in your hearts. May you have happiness by being happy with one another and may you find love in loving one another.
Signing: The Registrar will then invite the couple to sign the Schedule, followed by the two witnesses. This is the legal part.
Photos: The Registrar declares you are now civil partners and there is then time for photographs while the Registrar prepares a copy of your civil partnership certificate.
20 minutes after ceremony time
The Registrar presents a certificate to the couple who then lead everyone out of the Ceremony Room.
25 minutes after ceremony time
By this time - all the civil partnership party and guests should be leaving the City Hall.
Ministers, priests, pastors and chaplains who will be solemnising marriages must be nominated to the Registrar General by their religious organisation. They are known as Officiants.
Notice of Marriage
Notice for all religious marriages has to be given on the prescribed Marriage Notice Forms. Each of the two parties must complete and sign a Notice Form. The Officiant must also sign at least one of the Notice Forms. If your Officiant becomes unavailable for the ceremony, contact the Registrar as one of the Notice Forms must be signed by the substitute Officiant before the schedule can be issued. The couple should submit the Notice Forms to the Registrar of the District where the marriage is to be solemnised along with the relevant documents and the notice fee. If you are paying by cheque, please make the cheque payable to “Belfast City Council”. Please contact the office to arrange an appointment by calling 028 9027 0455.
Humanist ceremonies are conducted by a humanist celebrant.
You still need to give notice at the Registration Office in Belfast City Hall if you are having a humanist ceremony in the Belfast district. The process for giving notice is the same as a religious notice.
Notice may be given up to a year before the date of marriage with the minimum notice period being 28 clear days.
Collection of the schedule
The marriage schedule must be collected personally by either party from the Registrar no earlier than 14 days before the marriage.
Solemnisation of the marriage
An Officiant can only solemnise a marriage when he or she has received a marriage schedule. Immediately after the ceremony, the schedule must be signed by the couple, two witnesses (over 16 years of age) and the Officiant.
Return of the schedule and registration of the marriage
The completed schedule must be returned within three working days to the Registrar of the District in which the marriage was solemnised. Once the schedule is received, the District Registrar will register the marriage and you can purchase certified copies.
If the marriage does not take place, the schedule must be returned to the Registrar as soon as possible.
To give notice, please contact the office to make an appointment.
Address: Belfast District Registration Office for Marriages and Civil Partnerships, The Registrar’s Office, City Hall, Belfast BT1 5GS
Office hours for enquiries or applications: Monday to Thursday 9.30am - 4.15pm Friday: 9.30am - 3.45pm