Legal Dictionary

civil marriage

Legal Definition of civil marriage

Related terms

Definition of civil marriage


civil marriage (plural civil marriages)

  1. A marriage performed by a government official instead of by a member of the clergy.

Further reading

Civil marriage is marriage performed by a government official and not a religious organization.

Civil marriage in the world currently

- England

Today marriages in England must be held in authorised premises, which may include register offices, premises such as stately homes, castles and hotels that have been approved by the local authority, churches or chapels of the Church of England or Wales, and other churches and religious premises that have been registered by the registrar general for marriage.

Civil marriages require a certificate, and at times a license, that testify that the couple is fit for marriage. A short time after they are approved in the superintendent registrar's office, a short non-religious ceremony takes place which the registrar, the couple and two witnesses must attend; guests may also be present.

- United States

In all states in the United States, it is possible to obtain a civil marriage. Such ceremonies are conducted before a local civil authority, such as a mayor, judge, deputy marriage commissioner or other public official. It is not uncommon for these ceremonies make mention of a deity, but most do not reference any specific religion. Many of these ceremonies take place in the town hall or local courthouse. As part of such ceremonies, a religious official such as a rabbi, pastor, or qadi may be given the authority to conduct the marriage by the state, thus unifying the religious with the civil ceremony.

- Countries with mandatory civil marriage

In many countries such as France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Brazil, Switzerland and Russia, there is a civil ceremony requirement. Following the civil marriage ceremony, couples are free to marry in a religious ceremony. Such ceremonies, however, only serve to provide a religious recognition of the marriage, since the state's recognition has already been given. In some of these countries (e.g. The Netherlands and Belgium) most couples get married without any religious ceremony at all. Full, formal weddings, complete with wedding gowns and the presence of family and friends, are usually conducted in special ceremonial rooms in the town hall.

- Countries with no civil marriage

There is no civil marriage in many Arab countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Mauritania, as well as in Indonesia, Iran and Israel, among other countries; all marriages are conducted by religious authorities, and are registered by civil authorities only after having been registered by authorities of officially approved religions (Egypt, Israel and Lebanon all recognize Christianity, Islam and Judaism; in many Arab countries almost 100% citizens are Muslim), or, having been registered abroad. This yields particular problems for those who are refused divorce by their spouses, or couples in religious traditions that forbid divorce altogether. Malaysia allows civil marriage for non-Muslim only, while Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan allow it for foreign citizens only.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


1.     landed property
2.     lex fori
3.     status quo
4.     ownership
5.     lex loci delicti commissi
6.     lex situs
7.     sodomy
8.     lex causae
9.     unjustified
10.     AORO