A forced marriage is a marriage entered into without the full consent of one or both parties.
The ability to choose who to marry is a fundamental human right. However, with forced marriages individuals or couples are made to marry another against their own free will. This is an issue that can impact on men, women and children of many cultural and social backgrounds.
However, there are legal protective measures to help prevent such marriages taking place and to help the individual who is already in a forced marriage. Such is the concern over the issue, which also covers forced civil partnerships, there is now forced marriage legislation that provides both civil remedies and criminal sanctions to deal with the problem.
A forced marriage is one in which one or both of the parties to the marriage have entered into it under force, duress or coercion.
This force can be physical or emotional in nature. Forced marriage can include situations where:
- There may be actual or threatened physical assaults if the individual does not marry the person they have been told to marry
- There may emotional pressure on the person to marry, for instance being told that dishonour will be brought on the family if the marriage does not proceed
- A family member may make threats of suicide or ‘honour killings’
- An individual who is already unable to take decisions for themselves due to incapacity is made to marry against their best interests
- There is physical or emotional abusive behaviour by one spouse or their family members against the other spouse
- Someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is forced to marry to ‘protect’ the family honour and avoid disclosure of sexuality
Yes. A forced marriage is absolutely distinct from an arranged marriage, where a couple are brought together with third-party family involvement and they have been selected to marry each other. In an arranged marriage there is free and full consent to marry. If either of the couple does not want to marry, it does not happen. What is missing in a forced marriage is an individual’s free choice.
You, or someone on your behalf such as a support organisation, can apply to the court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.
This is a court order to prevent an individual being forced to marry against their will or to help protect an individual who has been forced into marriage already.
Under a Forced Marriage Protection Order, the court has to consider all of the circumstances of the case to secure the health, safety and welfare of the individual, who is known as the ‘protected person’. If at all possible, the court accounts for the views of the protected person.
The order can be wide reaching and be tailored to the specific situation of the individual. It can, for example:
- Order the disclosure of the whereabouts of the protected person if they are at risk, or for them to be taken to a place of safety
- Include restrictions or requirements to stop or change the behaviour of the person forcing the individual into marriage
- Include people who, while they are not directly involved in forcing the individual into marriage, may be helping the person who is doing so
Forced marriage law covers not only civil remedies but also criminal penalties too if the order is breached. In certain circumstances, criminal proceedings can be started at the same time. Imprisonment and or a fine can be imposed on the individual or individuals found to have committed an offence.
If you know or are worried that a child is being or is likely to be forced into a marriage or civil partnership then you should refer the matter to the Children’s Reporter, who can seek emergency protective powers for the care of the child. You can also make a referral about a member of that child’s household if they are involved in forcing the marriage.
Also, if you believe a child is being taken out of the country for a forced marriage, you can seek interim interdict against their removal out of the UK on the grounds that it is not in their best interests to be removed.
Each case is considered on its own facts and circumstances. If it is possible to prove that there was no true consent to marry because of force or fear then it may be possible to have the marriage annulled. You should take legal advice on your case to see if this would apply to you.
The issue of forced marriage is taken seriously in the UK. There is a dedicated Forced Marriage Unit which operates UK-wide offering support to UK and non-UK nationals at risk of forced marriage. There are also resources based in Scotland.
If you are worried that you or someone you know is being forced into marriage or is at risk of it, speak to a Family Lawyer as soon as possible. Our Family Law team can provide you with initial advice on forced marriage concerns and if necessary help you with raising any appropriate court action.
At Thorntons Family Law, we offer an initial free no-obligation chat over the phone to outline your options and the possible costs. Depending on your case and circumstances, the next step is to meet with one of our Family Law Solicitors about your case and the way forward.
Call us on 03330 430 150 for a chat or contact us to book an appointment.
We are always clear to clients about the potential costs of any option and offer a range of payment options. In some cases we can offer clients a fixed price package. If we cannot offer a fixed price service, we charge based on the time we spend on your case, including meetings, emails, phone calls and court representations. Depending on your case and circumstances, you may also need to cover outlays, such as court costs or payments to independent experts. We will set out our fees and likely extra costs for you at the start and keep you informed of any possible changes as your case progresses.
Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.