Quick Exit

Quick Exit

“It would be hard on the day to call a halt to a ceremony. You’d have to be really sure. So it’s having the tools in place that would help you to be really sure, that would make a difference”

This website provides information and resources registrars might need to help them better recognise and respond to forced, unlawful or predatory marriage of vulnerable adults including people with learning disabilities, dementia or mental ill-health.

This includes a range of information sheets and resources to support professional understandings and interventions including a film available in English, Hindi, Urdu and Sylheti and a range of information sheets, case studies and practice guidance.

What is forced marriage/civil partnership?

A forced marriage of people with learning disabilities occurs when one or both people do not, or cannot, due to lacking capacity, consent to the marriage. Unlike other forced marriages, duress is not a necessary factor.

Forced marriage can take place in two ways:

  • The person cannot consent to marriage because they do not have the capacity to do so
  • The person is forced to marry someone when they don’t want to

This website provides information and resources registrars might need to help them better recognise and respond to forced marriage of people with learning disabilities.

For more information on forced marriage see Information Sheet 1

People coerced into marriage

People may be coerced into marriage for many reasons and this could present a safeguarding concern. The Care Act 2014 makes clear that specific adult safeguarding duties apply to any adult who:

  • has care and support needs
  • is experiencing, or is at risk of, abuse or neglect
  • is unable to protect themselves because of their care and support needs.

Additionally, one of the 6 key principles of the Care Act is Prevention: it is better to take action before harm occurs.



Safeguarding is everybody’s business and adults at risk may or may not have the capacity to consent to marriage. It may be necessary to consider whether a safeguarding concern is likely to arise should a marriage take place. It is important to note that having a learning disability, dementia or mental ill health must not automatically lead to safeguarding concerns being raised, and, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 makes it clear that people with capacity are entitled to make ‘unwise decisions’, which would include the decision to marry someone their friends or family members may consider an ‘unwise choice’. However, sometimes situations occur where ‘something doesn’t feel right’ and people can be coerced (or groomed) without understanding this is what is happened. Provisions are already in place for registrars to interview people individually and the following scenarios may prompt further open ended questions by the registrar.

One person doing all the talking or showing reluctance to let the other party be spoken to alone
One person attempts to answer questions on behalf of the other thus ‘masking’ whether the person can answer the question themselves
A person has difficultly answering questions and
A person has difficulty understanding why they are present
A person does not appear to understand the consequences of marriage (including for example that marriage revokes any previously made will).

Specific guidance for registrars related to forced marriage and duress and mental capacity and vulnerable adults is available on the registrars website and any concerns should be discussed with the Superintendent Registrar. The Government has also produced Statutory Guidance on forced marriage and Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines for dealing with cases of forced marriage.

"Knowing what to look out for and what questions to ask to identify whether or not someone has capacity to consent to marriage is crucial"

What to do if you are concerned about someone

One chance rule – the Forced Marriage Unit Statutory Guidance on forced marriage and Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines for dealing with cases of forced marriage make it clear that you may only have one chance to protect someone before they are forced to marry. You must act on information or concerns promptly. For registrars the one chance could arise the day notice is taken and/or the day of the ceremony itself (or day of completion of civil partnership if no ceremony is taking place).

If at any point you have immediate concerns for someone’s safety contact the police on 999.

If when taking notice or conducting a ceremony you have concerns about someone, but there is no immediate threat to their safety, you should discuss this with the Superintendent Registrar and the GRO to consider making an adult safeguarding referral. Information on how to do this will be available on your local authority website.

You can also contact the UK Government Forced Marriage Unit for help and advice on 020 7008 0151 or by emailing fmu@fcdo.gov.uk. The Forced Marriage Unit have produced specific Guidance for registrars.

What to do if you are concerned about someone’s capacity to consent

In order to marry lawfully a person must have the capacity to consent to marry. Capacity means the ability to make a decision, consent means giving permission for that decision. It is the person getting married who must have capacity and who must give their consent to the marriage.

Capacity to consent to marry means being fully aware of the decision that you are making and what you are agreeing to, it is more than just saying yes. It means the person saying yes must understand about marriage and what the expectations of being married are. This can include for example where they will live and sleep, having a sexual relationship and that sex can lead to pregnancy or health issues. If they do not understand this could be a safeguarding issue which requires you to take action.

You may believe a person is not being forced or coerced to marry because they are not objecting or they seem happy, if the person cannot fully understand the decision and the impact of that decision, the marriage would be unlawful.

All Registrars have a duty to assess whether or not a person has capacity to consent at point of giving notice and at the signing of a marriage/civil partnership contract. It is perfectly acceptable to request support with this, professionals who know the person well and have expertise in mental capacity assessments are better able to assess capacity assessment than a registrar who only meets the person once. This is because assessing capacity to consent can be complex.

Although there must be grounds for requesting a capacity assessment, registrars must also be prepared to justify a decision not to carry out an assessment. 39 Essex Chambers (a law firm that specialises in mental capacity) advise that the person getting married must be able to demonstrate understanding of the answers they give to questions about marriage.

For general guidance on decision making and mental capacity see guidance from the GRO and the resources section of this website.

We are in the process of developing more specific guidance for registrars.

Duty to Safeguard - including sharing information

Forced and predatory marriage of adults who lack capacity to consent is a safeguarding issue. The Care Act 2014 and associated statutory guidance (DHSC, 2018a) challenges the misconception that safeguarding only related to certain situations eg in health and social care; in law, ‘safeguarding is everybody’s business’ and this includes the Registration service.

Effective safeguarding requires sharing information with relevant professionals. Where you think that someone may lack capacity you have a duty to share information and report your concerns. NHS England guidance on information sharing clearing states that information should always be shared if this will prevent a crime or if you think a crime has been committed.

For further information on safeguarding adults and sharing information see NHS guidance.

Do you need our help? Useful information here.

About Us Useful Contacts
© 2020. All Rights Reserved
The Diary Creative Agency