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Sham Marriage

A sham marriage is one where two people have entered into the marriage and are not in a genuine relationship but have married for financial or other gain. The lack of genuine relationship means that the couple does not have a proper relationship or dependency on one another and have no intention of living together as a married couple. Most commonly these marriages are used to circumvent immigration laws. It is estimated that there are over 10,000 sham marriages every year in the UK.

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How is a sham marriage defined?

The law on immigration was updated in 2014 and introduced a new framework for the Home Office to investigate sham marriages. A marriage will be regarded as a sham where the following all apply:

  • One or both of the parties are not relevant nationals
  • There is no genuine relationship between the parties
  • Either or both parties enter into the marriage for the purpose of circumventing UK immigration controls

Sham marriages are seen as an abuse to the immigration rules and the Home Office therefore rigorously investigates marriages where this is alleged. They will take action against those involved in the sham marriage as well as those that have assisted. There are related offences to the sham marriage itself, including:

  • Facilitating others to enter the UK illegally and then arrange sham marriages
  • Conspiracy to facilitate others
  • Deception (applying for leave to remain in the UK following a sham marriage)
  • Bigamy, where the person is already married before they enter into the sham marriage
  • Perjury

The burden of proof is on the Home Office to prove that the marriage is a sham, as opposed to the couple proving that it is genuine. 

What about the right to marry?

Under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) there is the fundamental right to marry under Article 12. The legislation surrounding sham marriages does not contravene this right since the intention is not to prevent a genuine marriage but only to stop those that are shown to be a sham. 

Marriage Referral and Investigation Scheme

The Marriage Referral and Investigation scheme was introduced by the Immigration Act 2014. Any person that is applying to marry that is not a relevant national and does not have the relevant immigration status to remain in the UK (or has evidence to show that they are exempt from the scheme) will automatically be referred to the Home Office for review. 

If the Home Office decide to investigate (because there are reasonable grounds to suspect that it is a sham marriage and at least one party is not exempt from this scheme) then the notification period for the marriage will be extended from 28 to 7 days to allow for the investigation to take place before the marriage occurs. 

There is a statutory duty on registry offices in this country to report any suspicious marriages to the Home Office for investigation into whether or not it is a sham.

Marriage interviews

If a marriage is being investigated to determine whether it is a sham, then administrative marriage interviews can take place to determine the validity of the marriage. The parties can be asked questions that will help verify whether or not it is a genuine relationship, for example, questions can be asked in relation to:

  • Background information on the relationship
  • Each parties immigration and person history
  • What the couples living arrangements are
  • What their plans are for the future
  • What their arrangements are for the wedding and the future marriage

Arranged marriages are not the same as sham marriages and in these cases the couple may have had limited exposure to each other before the marriage. This is not an issue and does not undermine a genuine marriage where the couple intend to live together as a married couple after the wedding.

What happens if a marriage is declared as a sham?

The Home Office can take various actions including:

  • Refusing entry clearance or admission into the UK
  • Refusing, revoking, curtailing or cancelling permission or leave to remain in the UK
  • Removing that person from the UK

The individuals can also face criminal prosecution for the offences related to the sham marriage. 


The information on this website is intended as a guide and does not constitute legal advice. Vardags do not accept liability for any errors in the information on this website, nor any losses stemming from reliance upon the statements made herein. All articles and pages aim to reflect the legal position at time they were published, and may have been rendered obsolete by subsequent developments in the law. Should you require specialist advice, tailored to your situation, please see how Vardags can help you.


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