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Weddings in the metaverse: digital challenges for our analogue marriage laws

Posted: 14/02/2022

Cointelegraph has reported the first ever wedding in the metaverse. A couple from Arizona tied the knot with their digital identities last week. The ceremony, complete with witnesses and an officiant, took place in Decentraland.

The law firm involved claims to have developed a meta-marriage framework by incorporating a virtual premarital agreement, which identified the couple’s virtual identities and digital assets as recorded on the blockchain. A meta-marriage license then identified, recorded and tokenised the couple’s virtual identities and place of marriage on the blockchain as a nonfungible token (NFT).

This couple may be trail-blazers in many ways, but it is anticipated that more couples may wish to consider the benefits of hosting their wedding in the metaverse. After all the sky is truly the limit without limitations of place, number of guests etc. But, as a family lawyer, the crucial question that springs to mind is legality: is the marriage legally binding?

It appears from media reports that there are doubts in the US that it was, despite the framework developed around it. Here, in England and Wales, there are strict rules which need to be followed to create a valid marriage. Many purely religious ceremonies do not result in a legally recognised marriage, which can cause significant problems for the couple and their children, not least if the couple later seek to divorce.

Where a marriage takes place (and whom is officiating/witnessing the ceremony) is critical for validity. Ceremonies must take place in registered religious buildings, a register office or a licensed venue. The Law Commission has recently conducted a consultation to reform the law governing how and where couples can marry. A final report is due this summer. Needless to say that the proposed scheme, whilst modernising to accommodate weddings outside, does not contemplate concepts such as NFTs, digital identities and the metaverse.

Despite the futuristic framework of the Decentraland nuptials, it is perhaps comforting to someone who lives their life (mostly) in 3D to read that this couple still encountered some analogue world issues on their big day: the digital bride was fashionably late failing to show up at the ceremony (at least for some of the 2,000 guests) and she had a wardrobe malfunction (appearing in a hoodie or a dress depending which server the guests had been split into). Whatever the next developments of the metaverse wedding, it is likely that the law will be playing catch up for some time. Given that the current law on marriage is from the early 1800s, I wonder how long it will take to move the dial from garden gazebo to avatar brides and just how much technology and social mores will have moved on in the meantime?

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