Double the Vows: Married on Paper, Before the Pheras

Engaged and want to travel together to suss out your wedding venues? Some couples in India are opting to legalize their union via a formal “Memorandum of Marriage’ Application (Marriage Registration Form) leading to a simple court marriage before their large-scale ‘social’ wedding these days. We explore what’s giving rise to the trend of ‘post-marriage’ weddings.

When Sheetal* and Maneck* (names changed for privacy) hosted their lavish destination wedding in a tropical island last year, little did some of their guests realize that they were witnessing ‘post-marriage’ pheras.

Yes, that’s right. Sheetal and Maneck were already husband and wife legally before their ‘social’ wedding as they had had a simple court marriage a few months prior to hosting their outstation celebrations.

Married on PaperPhotos Courtesy- Shades Photography

According to the country’s leading wedding industry insiders, many couples from elite families are opting for quiet court marriages, typically attended by only immediate family members, before they plan their public celebrations. This is a sort of reversal from the typical process of tying the knot at a public wedding with requisite religious rituals, and then registering for a marriage certificate to legalize the union.

So what is giving rise to the trend of court marriages before ‘social’ weddings in India today, especially in cities like Mumbai and New Delhi?

The first reason is a practical one – court marriages are conducted for the purpose of visa applications especially for couples planning to settle down abroad, or even honeymoon in a place that has a longer visa approval processing time.

Sneha Tejwani of Occasionz Unlimited shares, “I have personally seen court marriages take place before the ‘social’ wedding with couples, especially those who need to move abroad and need legal proof such as a marriage certificate for their visa documentation. Typically, the court marriage is a fairly quiet ceremony with just 10-15 close family members. Many couples don’t even live together after their court marriage. They have a big ‘social’ wedding two or three months after their court ceremony, and then fly abroad and settle down.”

That’s exactly what happened when US-based *Ayush and *Garima exchanged garlands in a court two months before they hosted a bigger ‘social’ wedding in their hometown. They applied for their US visas immediately after getting their marriage certificate so they could travel to Boston together after their wedding.

Married on PaperPhotos Courtesy- WeddingNama

Secondly, wedding planners share that many couples today don’t identify with or want a typical lavish wedding to symbolize their union. A low-key court ceremony and private celebrations which include elements of their personal tastes are enough for them.

The third reason has to do with conservative mores in India which have to co-exist with fast changing preferences when it comes to weddings.

Many urban couples prefer traveling outstation together to suss out pre-wedding shoots and wedding venues. Their families are not comfortable with the idea of them traveling and living together, and prefer that they fill out and file a ‘Memorandum of Marriage’ application with the Registrar of Marriages, or legally wed in a court before they travel together.

Today, well-heeled couples in India are not content with domestic or hometown destinations anymore – be it for their pre-wedding shoots or celebrations. They want standout destinations such as exceptional private resorts that blend the beauty of beaches with the glitzy ambience of a luxury hotel. Places such as the Jumeirah Resorts in the Maldives, MAIA Seychelles, Four Seasons Seychelles and Jumeirah Port Soller in Spain continue to be top draws for elite Indian and NRI couples who don’t mind the expense for an extraordinary experience. However, many still have to deal with their families’ discomfort about living /traveling together before their ‘social’ marriage.

Married on PaperPlaces such as the Jumeirah Resorts Maldives, MAIA Seychelles and Jumeirah Port Soller in Spain are draws for elite Indian couples seeking an extraordinary experience. 

Wedding photographer Deepanshi Kapoor of Happyframes says, “The earlier formula was simple – the would-be-bride’s brother or ‘watcher’ would accompany the engaged couple if circumstances meant they had to travel. But that was not always easy. A court marriage or even filing the ‘Memorandum of Marriage’ application makes it easy for an engaged couple to be ‘married on paper’ before they fly to foreign shores.”

Wedding planner Tina Tharwani of Shaadi Squad adds, “Destination weddings are getting increasingly popular these days. These require engaged couples to travel even during the courtship period for either a friend’s wedding, a pre-wedding shoot (for many couples, a pre-wedding shoot in their home town is a no-no), or for venue checks if they are contemplating a destination wedding.”

Married on PaperPhotos Courtesy- Shades Photography

Bride Shipra shares, “Vicky* and I had an arranged marriage. I wanted to travel with him when he was not my husband in order to get to know him better, but that was a big no-no for our families. So a family member suggested a nice way out for us – a quiet court marriage. That was my ‘passport’ to travel with Vicky anywhere. Of course none of our family friends or distant relatives knew about this because my parents wanted to host a big three-day wedding at a hotel close to our home. If some of the guests got to know about our court marriage, they would conjecture and gossip, and wonder why they were being invited for a marriage three months later. So we kept it all quiet. After my court marriage, I traveled with Vicky to Goa and Seychelles. And after the ‘social’ wedding, I moved into my husband’s home.”

Wedding planner Prerna Agarwal of Knot Married shares that the trend of large-scale destination weddings is also a factor leading to court marriage before ‘social’ weddings as organizing them takes more time these days. “Planning a lavish three-day wedding takes longer now due to the plethora of venues available. It is not like earlier times where all one had to do was book a five-star hotel in one’s city. Some couples find the registered court marriage route convenient as they can suss out offbeat venues together with no fixed ‘social’ wedding date in mind. For them, a dream venue and attendance of their close friends is more important.”

Married on PaperPhotos Courtesy- Shades Photography

*For a court marriage, couples have to fill and file a Marriage Registration Application Form (Or Memorandum of Marriage) with the Registrar of Marriages.
*The Registrar of Marriages will publish the notice publicly for 30 days (in case someone has an objection to the proposed union).
*After the 30 days waiting period, the marriage solemnization and registration formalities take place in the court.
*The marriage certificate is typically given to the couple immediately after the formalities are complete.
*Different states will have variance in rules, as well as waiting time depending on number of couples in queue to register their marriages.

*Names changed for privacy

By Deepanjali Pandey, Consulting Editor,

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