The government has announced that it will make life easier for couples wanting to get married by freeing up more 'dream venues' - as separated couples face record waits to get divorced.
Prime minister Theresa May and lord chancellor David Gauke have asked the Law Commission to review the laws on how and where wedding ceremonies can take place. The two-year project will explore how red tape can be removed to increase choice and lower costs. The government says the review, announced on Saturday, could open up opportunities for civil ceremonies at sea, in private homes or on military sites for service personnel.
Plans to allow civil weddings and partnerships out of doors will be accelerated.
May said: 'As both home secretary and prime minister I have been proud to sponsor the legislation that created equal marriage, and to extend civil partnerships to ensure all couples are given the same choices in life.
'The vital institution of marriage is a strong symbol of wider society’s desire to celebrate commitment between partners. But we can do more to bring the laws on marriage ceremonies up to date and to support couples in celebrating their commitment. This review will look at how we can ensure marriage keeps pace with modern Britain.'
Gauke said 'people from all walks of life should be able to express their vows in a way that is meaningful to them'.
But while the government seeks to open up more wedding venues, waiting times at the 11 venues that process divorce applications have leaped up.
Quarterly statistics published by the Ministry of Justice, covering January to March this year, show that the average time from petition to decree absolute is 59 weeks. The average time from petition to decree nisi is 33 weeks.
The government's response to a parliamentary written question from shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon MP about the average wait time at each divorce centre in 2015 and 2019 suggests that the increase is not a blip. Waiting times have risen across the country since the divorce centres were set up in 2015. The least affected region is the Midlands, where couples have to wait 3.6 weeks longer (24 weeks in 2015, 27.6 weeks now). The south-east is the worst hit, with couples waiting four months longer (24.7 weeks in 2015, 41 weeks now).
Justice minister Paul Maynard said staff shortages at Bury St Edmunds had led to some delays in the south east, but the centre is now fully staffed and performance is improving. More judges have been recruited and sitting days have been increased.
A question mark remains over the future of the centres.
Maynard said: 'Divorce can be a deeply distressing time which is why an online divorce application was introduced as part of the £1bn reform programme. Separating couples can fill in simplified forms, submit documents and pay online - leading to significantly fewer errors and an easier, cheaper application process.'