Ceremonies guidance during the pandemic

How our ceremonies are currently affected by the pandemic.

1 Overview

We have every sympathy with couples who have had ceremony plans changed during the ongoing pandemic. It’s been a difficult time for everyone, and the impact of COVID-19 is ongoing.

We’re determined to deliver memorable and happy ceremonies for our couples and will do everything possible to make this happen while keeping everyone safe.

The national pandemic response is a fast- moving situation and the guidelines are often updated at short notice. We’ve been using the national coronavirus guidance and local specialist COVID-19 risk assessments tailored to our ceremony rooms to keep everyone at ceremonies as safe as possible.

This includes making sure our registration team are not put at risk of contracting the virus. If too many registrars have to self-isolate, or are off work with COVID-19, we will be unable to carry out ceremonies for anyone. This is not a situation we want to risk after so many people have waited so long for ceremonies to take place once more.

In recent months we’ve increased the number of people able to be in our ceremony rooms as advice has evolved since ceremonies re-started after lockdowns.

We will add the latest ceremony guidelines on our website when any changes are made. We'll also endeavour to let couples know at least a month before their ceremony of any changes that may affect them since any previous communication.

Thank you for your understanding of these challenging times.

For further information on ceremonies and receptions please see the GOV.UK website for the latest Government guidance.

Ceremonies roadmap

Since 19 July 2021 there is no legal limit on attendee numbers or social distancing requirements, other than capacity limits of venues and their risk assessment for safety.

Caution is still being urged, which will reflect on how we take your legal notices and conduct ceremonies.

However, couples should remember that this does not guarantee that restrictions may not be imposed again at short notice, either at local or national level, dependent on the course of the pandemic.

For current numbers permitted, check with your venue or see the information about our ceremony rooms.

Guidance for your safety at our ceremony rooms

Although there are currently no mandatory social distancing requirements, we are keen to continue to ensure that public health recommended precautions and Government guidance is followed. This will provide the safest possible environment for our staff and customers.

In line with West Sussex County Council (WSCC) guidance to staff and the latest advice regarding weddings in plan B, please note that your guests should wear face coverings whilst attending your ceremony, unless exempt. The couple and registrars are not required to wear face coverings, but may choose to do so.

Please also keep a respectable distance of approximately two metres from all our staff to help us keep them safe.

As part of our enduring approach, we will aim to keep windows open to encourage air flow as ventilation remains a recommendation to prevent virus transmission.

We would ask that you respect the registrar’s personal workspace and continue to maintain a distance of approximately two metres during the ceremony. Registrars are key to our ability to deliver ceremonies and it is essential that they remain healthy and well, alongside feeling safe and confident to carry out their duties.

We know that the virus continues to circulate and do hope that you stay healthy and well. However, if you do contract the virus and test positive ahead of your ceremony, we’d urge you to contact us immediately. We can then work with you to rearrange your ceremony (subject to availability) once you have recovered.

We are aware that many couples are keen to take additional steps to protect their friends and families. We recommend that you and your guests carry out lateral flow tests (freely available from pharmacies) prior to the ceremony to give added confidence to enjoy your special day.

Hand sanitiser will continue to be available at our offices and we recommend that you use it.

The couple and registrars are not required to wear face coverings, but may choose to do so.

2 Capacity at external licensed venues

Ceremonies in a licensed venue (hotels, town halls, country houses and so on)

All external approved venues are required to risk assess their venues in accordance with Government guidance on weddings. There is currently no limit on those attending ceremonies, other than the capacity limit of the venue to operate safely. To check what numbers your venue can accommodate within the current Government guidelines, please contact your venue.

Plan B, approved by parliament on 15 December to address the rise in the Omicron variant, updates the guidance on face coverings and states they should be worn in public areas of hotels, in visitor attractions and entertainment venues.

This guidance also confirms that "You should continue to wear a face covering in other indoor places, especially those that are crowded and enclosed and where you may come into contact with people you do not normally meet."

All venues will have their own safety precautions to protect their customers and staff. Please speak to your venue for more information on how they will be keeping you and your guests safe.

For further information, see our guidance for your safety at WSCC ceremony rooms.

Capacity in WSCC ceremony rooms

All our ceremony rooms have been carefully risk assessed in the light of the new guidance, and a capacity limit has been determined to ensure the safety of yourselves and our staff, as far as possible.

These are maximum numbers and, should you have unvaccinated/vulnerable guests in your party, we recommend you invite fewer so they have plenty of personal space. By inviting half the maximum will allow you all approximately one metre distancing.

Numbers of guests in our ceremony rooms

Who counts as a guest? All those you invite, such as:

  • guests
  • witnesses
  • any other person you invite to be present (including children of any age, or those employed by you, such as a photographer).

Registration officials are not counted in these numbers.

Chichester

Crawley - Southgate Avenue

Horsham - Park House

Worthing

If you have a specific question about our rooms that is not covered here, please contact our team.

We remain very busy with enquiries about current ceremonies. We will do our best to get back to you as soon as possible, usually within a few days. However, after each Government announcement, we experience a surge in demand when we prioritise those with the most imminent ceremonies.

3 New bookings for ceremonies

We are taking new bookings for ceremonies in our WSCC ceremony rooms this year.

If you would like to book one of our rooms, complete the ceremony enquiry form. Consider where you would like to hold your ceremony before completing the form. Information about our rooms is available through View our ceremony rooms. You can also find out what our current capacity is at our venues

We are taking bookings for registrars to attend ceremonies at external licensed venues. Ensure you leave enough time to book your notice appointment. To check registrar availability for your required date, complete the ceremony enquiry form.

We will contact you as soon as we are able, usually within two days.

4 Notices of marriage or civil partnership

Your safety at notice appointments

Appointments to give notice are available in Chichester, Crawley, Horsham and Worthing.

In line with WSCC guidance, and to keep West Sussex staff as safe as possible during the pandemic, we ask that you continue to wear a face covering while entering and moving around our buildings.

For your safety, and the safety of our registrars, we will conduct the face-to-face notice appointment at a distance of at least two meters, with Perspex screens remaining in place. Please respect the registrar’s personal workspace.

Windows will be open where possible and hand sanitiser will be available in our offices for you to use.

Do not attend an appointment if you are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or have had a positive test. Please let us know immediately and we will rearrange your appointment.

New notice appointments

You can find information about notice regulations and how to book a notice appointment on Arrange a notice appointment.

Expired notices

If your ceremony has been postponed and your original notice has expired, you will need to give notice again. Notices of marriage or civil partnerships are valid for one year from the date given and cannot be extended.

Your notices are venue specific. If you change your venue you will need to give notice again and pay the statutory fee.

5 Your ceremony during the pandemic

Before your ceremony you will be asked to complete a choices form. This allows you to personalise your ceremony and choose which optional parts you wish to include.

However, with the country still in a pandemic situation, please take note of the guidance below.

The ceremony

Face coverings

Find information about our guidance for your safety at WSCC ceremony rooms.

Distancing

We ask that you respect the registrar’s personal workspace and continue to maintain a distance of approximately two metres during the ceremony, as well as keeping a respectful distance from all staff you encounter during your ceremony.

Aisle/giving away

Making an entrance with an escort may not be advisable if you wish to maintain distance from each other and all your seated guests. However, the emphasis now allows family and friends more freedom to make their own assessment of personal risk to themselves and their loved ones. This is allowed, provided you are content that the escort may be closer to yourself and your guests.

Readings

You are able to add readings and poems to your ceremony. Please see our Personalise your ceremony page.

Ring exchanges

Couples are welcome to exchange rings.

Hand hygiene

Hand sanitiser will be available at all our WSCC buildings. We recommend that everyone sanitises their hands when they enter the building and before signing the legal paperwork.

Photographs

Any photographer you employ to attend one of our ceremony rooms counts as a guest. Photographs must be taken with care to respect the registrars personal space and we request that the photographer wears a face covering whilst moving around. Guests are welcome to take photographs from their seats.

Certificates

Certificates will be posted in the week following the ceremony after the registrar has completed the legal formalities.

What will happen at the ceremony (order of ceremony)

The marriage ceremony will consist of:

  • Registrars welcome
  • Reading (optional)
  • The couple repeating declaratory and contracting words after the registrar
  • Exchange of rings (optional)
  • Additional promises (optional)
  • Reading (optional)
  • Signing of legal documents by couple, witnesses and registrars
  • Conclusion.

The civil partnership signing/ceremony will consist of:

  • Welcome
  • The couple reading the legal declaration (reading aloud is optional)
  • Signing of legal documents by couple, witnesses and registrar
  • Reading (optional)
  • Making formal promises to each other (optional)
  • Exchanging rings (optional)
  • Conclusion.

6 Outdoor ceremonies

Since 1 July 2021, legislation has changed to allow ceremonies outside, provided:

  • they are within the grounds of an approved licensed venue
  • the venue has confirmed with the Registration Service in advance of the ceremony that the intended area meets the criteria laid out in the legislation.

Not all venues have suitable outside areas and there is no obligation for venues to offer this.

Previously approved buildings in the grounds can still be used as they still count as an approved building.

Last updated:
17 January 2022
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