Since we’re in the pandemic era, many have decided to forgo the traditional wedding celebration in favor of a courthouse wedding. But this isn’t just a new phenomena– couples have chosen city hall for their romantic moment for decades.
Whether or not your plans are due to the pandemic or not, there are plenty of ways to make your courthouse wedding super special.
However, you may not have been to many courthouse weddings, making the planning process somewhat intimidating or mysterious. If you’re here because you don’t know where to begin, don’t worry. Keep reading for info on how to get married at the courthouse and what to expect.
Difference Between Courthouse and Traditional Wedding
The difference between a courthouse marriage ceremony and a traditional wedding are pretty much just what they seem– instead of a more traditional Church, or a ceremony venue like an outdoor space or a hotel, you say your vows and seal the deal in the courthouse’s legal setting.
Therefore, the typical courthouse wedding is much less fancy than your standard wedding. The bride’s dress is usually not thousands of dollars, nor will you likely serve a five-class meal to hundreds of your closest friends. However, for many couples, this is exactly what they want from a wedding.
If you’re not interested in all the glitz and glam, city hall might be the spot for you.
What to Expect at a Courthouse Wedding
The thing about this kind of ceremony is that not that many people have been to them. Unless a close family member has had one or you work at city hall, it’s unlikely that you’ve witnessed one of these special ceremonies. This article is here to help you figure out what to expect for a courthouse wedding.
There are also ways to closely plan the details of your courthouse wedding day. Do you want to do something fun in the morning beforehand? Do you want to wear a fun, non-traditional wedding dress?
What about for dinner that night, or for a honeymoon? All of these aspects of a traditional wedding are still things to keep in mind for a more intimate affair.
Finding the Perfect Courthouse
The first step is to pick your favorite city hall. Most often, this will be in the town in which you and your partner live. However, depending on the state, you can travel to a different town or beloved weekend spot to get hitched at their town building.
Like everything with civil weddings, this is all deeply dependent on the laws of your state. If you’re considering a civil ceremony, first call your local town hall and ask them if you could get married there, or if you’re welcome to travel out of town.
Once you know for sure, you can scan all the best town halls in your area for a spot you particularly love.
Getting a Marriage License
A crucial aspect of a civil ceremony is the marriage license. All couples getting married need to acquire a marriage license, however a civil ceremony is not as simple as just hopping in the car and getting married as some seem to believe.
States have a whole process of obtaining marriage licenses. There is a marriage license application that comes first, and once you are approved you can get married within certain dates.
There are a variety of laws regarding aspects of marriage, like marriage license fees, witnesses, and officiants. If you’re having a courthouse wedding, your officiant will be a government official.
While all couples getting married are required to get a license, it is especially important that you’re aware of waiting periods and witness laws prior to having a courthouse wedding. You can read about the laws in each state at U.S. Marriage Laws.com.
Do You Need to Make an Appointment?
The possibility or necessity of making an appointment at city hall is dependent on the city in which you’re getting married. Some will take appointments in advance, but know that like all appointments, there may be a longer wait than you’re expecting!
If your local courthouse does not take appointments, you’ll have to pick a day and ask if they are going to be open. Then, just know that there may be a wait when you arrive, or that they marriage clerks may be busy with something else. Again, this is all something to discuss on the phone beforehand!
All the Necessary Paperwork
To apply for a marriage license and have a courthouse wedding, there are documents to bring with you. You’ll need the license, obviously, and potentially a photo ID, like drivers licenses, passports, birth certificates or social security cards, or a proof of residency.
We’ve said it before but we’ll say it again: talk this over with the city hall officials before coming. You don’t want to have to leave your own wedding in order to run home for the deed to your house or something else.
Picking Your Witnesses
While a civil ceremony is notoriously more private than a traditional wedding, that doesn’t mean you can’t bring along guests. In fact, most states require a legal witness for a marriage ceremony, and most town halls will not provide one. So, bringing a couple of people is expected.
Most people would bring their parents or siblings. However, if you’d prefer it, feel free to invite a few potential friends to be your wedding party. Either way, letting your loved ones be part of such an intimate ceremony will surely feel special.
If you are planning on having a courthouse wedding during the COVID-19 pandemic, be sure to talk with the city hall officials about capacity and COVID protocols.
Who Will Marry You in the Courthouse
At the courthouse, your wedding officiant will be provided and they may be some sort of government official, like a justice of the peace or a notary. While some may feel that this is impersonal, this person will also be very well-experienced in performing civil ceremonies, so that is a benefit.
It is important to note that a civil ceremony is a secular marriage ceremony. You will not be able to have your officiant do readings from religious texts or invoke specifically religious language.
If getting married in a place of worship or having a specifically religious ceremony is important to you, then a city hall ceremony is probably not your best route.
How a Courthouse Wedding Ceremony Goes
Just like a traditional ceremony, you’re perfectly welcome to write your own vows for a civil ceremony, you’ll just have to let your officiant know beforehand.
While some may feel that a courthouse wedding is impersonal, this is a great way to make it extremely personal. By sharing your feelings in an intimate setting, your wedding will always stay close to your heart.
Proud declarations of love not your thing? That’s perfectly okay too! The officiant will have a standard script and set of vows that you can get married to. They will likely be very basic and simple– “Do you take this __?”– type of thing. You can talk with your officiant more closely beforehand.
Same Day Courthouse Wedding– Is It Possible?
The biggest misconception about elopement is that it’s a decision on a whim. If you’re trying to put together a courthouse wedding, that could not be further from the truth! Most city halls don’t treat their marriage services like it’s Vegas– you have to go through a whole process.
If your heart is really, really set on the spontaneous thing, then at the very least, call your local city hall beforehand. They may not be able to marry you that day, or if it’s the weekend, they may not even be open! Don’t let yourself be disappointed by showing up to a closed courthouse.
Throwing a Reception After the Courthouse
If you’d like to celebrate with more people, you should feel free to throw a reception party afterwards or on a different day. At a party, you could have more people than you did at the ceremony to celebrate your marriage. You could rent out a party space or you could do a backyard shindig.
If you’re looking to keep it small, then you could just go out for dinner and drinks as a couple or with your witnesses afterwards. However you choose to celebrate your new marriage, be sure it’s true to what you want.
Other Ways to Personalize a Courthouse Wedding
If you’re looking for other ways to bring a personal touch to city hall, then look to all the same little details that you would for a traditional wedding ceremony.
Your witnesses can wear wedding party attire, like groomsmen’s suits and bridesmaid dresses, and you could bring your dream floral arrangements. You could read more about non-traditional wedding dresses here.
More About Wedding Planning
If you’re looking for more about wedding planning, Yeah Weddings has what you need. From how to elope (further than city hall) to how long it takes to plan a wedding, be sure to look to our website for all of your plans for your big day.
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