Who can marry whom?

Posted to www.libbyLegal.com on 24th May 2013


So, according to recent media reports, Lord Tebbit quite fancies” his brother, and Jeremy Irons is going to marry his son, or possibly his dog …

I sincerely hope that they are just joking, but it highlights a common misconception about what the equality of same sex marriage actually means, and an imaginary floodgate of people marrying their own relatives for tax breaks.

This is the latest objection of the idea of same sex marriage. The legal position is that, no, you will not be able to marry your relatives, same sex or not.

The rules relating to who can marry whom are set out in the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1949 and the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees of Relationship) Act 1986.
There were various relationships which were prohibited, but these were scrapped with the introduction of the 1989 Act. These were:
A man can now marry: A woman can now marry:
Wife’s mother Husband’s father
Wife’s daughter Husband’s son
Father’s wife Mother’s husband
Son’s wife Daughter’s husband
Father’s father’s wife Father’s mother’s husband
Mother’s father’s wife Mother’s mother’s husband
Wife’s father’s mother Husband’s father’s father
Wife’s mother’s mother Husband’s mother’s father
Wife’s son’s daughter Husband’s son’s son
Wife’s daughter’s daughter Husband’s daughter’s son
Son’s son’s wife Son’s daughter’s husband
Daughter’s son’s wife Daughter’s daughter’s husband

The reasoning behind this is that, although something that might be a suitable plot for Eastenders, these relationships are not incest. These restricions were historical, UK law having strong roots in Roman law, which took the restrictions in Leviticus 20 to be illegal as well as immoral.
Now, who you can’t marry:

The 1949 Act States:

A man cannot marry: A woman cannot marry:

Mother Father
Daughter Son
Father’s mother Father’s father
Mother’s mother Mother’s father
Son’s daughter Son’s son
Daughter’s daughter Daughter’s son
Sister Brother
Father’s sister Father’s brother
Mother’s sister Mother’s brother
Brother’s daughter Brother’s son
Sister’s daughter Sister’s son
Daughter of former wife Son of former husband
Former wife of father Former husband of mother
Former wife of father’s father Former husband of father’s mother
Former wife of mother’s father Former husband of mother’s mother
Daughter of son of former wife Son of son of former husband
Daughter of daughter of former wife Son of daughter of former husband

The 1975 Children Act added that no adoptive parent can marry their adoptive, or former adoptive, child.

The slightly confusing addition by the 1989 Act was this:

Mother of former wife Father of former husband
Former wife of son Former husband of daughter

UNLESS both parties are 21 years old and the related parties are dead.

So a man can marry the mother of his former wife…so long as both the former wife, and the father are both dead.

It is this section that void’s Jeremy Iron’s argument. Many of these relationship are not incest, as the parties are not genetically related, but there is a strong moral argument against leaving your spouse for their mum or dad. The position of Civil Partnerships also specifically excludes blood relations from marrying. Part 1 or Schedule 1 Civil Partnership Act 2004 sets out exactly what these degrees are. It reflects the exact same lists as above, but removes gender, e.g. brother or sister becomes “sibling” :


Adoptive/ Former Adoptive Child
Adoptive / Former Adoptive Parent
Parent’s Sibling
Sibling’s Child

(“Sibling” means brother/sister/ half-brother/half-sister)

Further, the same restriction on marrying the former civil partner of spouse of a child, or the parent of a former spouse of a spouse of civil partner, applies in the same way as a non same sex marriage. i.e. that both the other parties in the relationship must both be dead.

The point he briefly touches on is the idea of two friends who have lived together for a long time but are not in a relationship, and yet are not able to use their nil rate tax allowance.
Again, Mr Irons has a few wires crossed!

Everyone has a nil rate band which can be applied when they die. The first £325,000 of your Estate in passed, tax free, to the Beneficiaries in your Will. Where the rule is different is that if you are married or in a Civil Partnership, and you leave everything to your Spouse/Civil Partner, the Estate doesn’t have to pay Inheritance Tax, as all gifts to Spouses/Civil Partners are tax free, and the Spouse/Civil Partner gets to use that tax allowance on their Estate, so they have a tax relief of £650,000.

This is a separate issue entirely and has raged in debate for many years in the field of Equity and Trusts. There are many cases where this has happened and there doesn’t appear to be a solution. A radical view held by some lawyers is that you can nominate your nil rate band to pass to someone tax free, but this is very unlikely to take effect because of the complication of the administration of the Estate and the clear tax avoidance possibilities. However, with careful tax and estate planning – and the majority of cases where this has happened is because the parties did not have Wills in place – it is possible to reduce your Inheritance Tax liability and make your Estate far more tax efficient.

More on Inheritance tax: http://www.huntleywilde.com/inheritance-tax-a-basic-guide/#sthash.ojyzt2cn.dpbs