A courthouse wedding might not be the fairytale wedding most girls envision, but it can make for an intimate and affordable wedding option. If you are considering getting married in a courthouse, individual states have different regulations and costs associated with a civil ceremony. A civil ceremony wedding is not without any planning. You will not be able to just walk in and declare you want to get married. A civil ceremony also does not mean you need to skip a reception and honeymoon.
Obtain a marriage license. You can do this at the courthouse where you plan to get married. Each state has different laws regarding marriage licenses, including required blood tests, costs, waiting periods and duration of license validity. To obtain your marriage license, you will need copies of both partners' birth certificates, photo identification, such as a driver's license, and Social Security number.
Book your wedding date. You can do this at the same time you apply for your marriage license. Courthouses are places of business, which means your ceremony will have to be on a weekday during normal business hours. The hours vary from state to state, but are typically between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. While you are booking your date, also ask if the courthouse provides witnesses, how many guests are permitted to watch your ceremony and the fee you will be charged. Besides the marriage license cost, you also will have to pay a fee to hold your ceremony in the courthouse and pay for the officiant. Costs vary from state to state, but expect to pay approximately $25 for a courthouse wedding. Most states require that you have at least two witnesses present to verify that you are of sound mind when you agree to wed.
Decide who you want to officiate your wedding. Most states have an officer of the court present to perform your ceremony. However in certain states, if you choose, laypeople are permitted to marry you. An on-day officiant, laypeople or Commissioner for a Day, is a family member or friend that has filed the proper paperwork and paid the fee to be eligible to marry you on your wedding day. Applications must be filed a month before the ceremony date, in some states it is only required to be filed two weeks prior to the ceremony. The fees vary from state to state and this option is not available in every state.
Invite guests. If you want and are able to have a small group of friends and family join you in witnessing your union, send out invitations. You can do paper invites or if you want to be cost-conscious you can send electronic invitations. Keep it intimate because room will be limited. If you are planning to have a dinner or party afterward as a reception, you could send out invitations for that. When inviting guests to your wedding, make sure that the time of the wedding will not be an inconvenience to them. If your guest feels obligated to attend but logistically cannot it could create an awkward situation and put your guest in a tough position. Plan your reception or celebration on the weekend so more guests can attend.
Decide what you are going to wear on your big day. Just because you are having a civil service does not mean that you don't deserve to look like a blushing bride. You do not have to go out and buy an elaborate gown to feel beautiful. A cute dress you love could work, or buying a simple dress also can save money. If you purchase a new outfit you care wear again, it will be a solid investment and won't collect dust in the back of your closet.
Decorate the courthouse to give it a more romantic atmosphere. Many locations allow you to bring in small decorations and items to personalize the room. Usually you can ask to have access to the room approximately one hour prior to the ceremony. If the courthouse is busy or the room is used for other purposes you might not be able to decorate or may only have a couple minutes to do so. Make sure you ask at the time you book your date. Common restrictions are placed on throwing flower petals, rice, bird seed and other items because of the difficulty to clean up quickly. All items you bring must be able to be carried and quickly set-up and taken down.
Ask one of your witnesses to take a couple of pictures for you. You can get them developed and framed yourself for a fraction of the cost a professional photographer would charge. You also could ask the witness to hold a video camera and record the ceremony. You could replay it at your reception later and everyone will be able to view your special moment.
- U.S. Marriage Laws: Pennsylvania Marriage Laws
- County of Santa Barbara: Weddings at the Courthouse
- "Los Angeles Times": Simple Weddings: Get Me to the Courthouse on Time
- "Los Angeles Times": Courthouse Weddings: The New Trend
- Wedding Dialogues: Legally Binding Weddings and Civil Unions: Finding your Officiant
- Circuit Court for Washington County: Marriage License Information
Nikki Van De Walle began writing in 2005. She has written articles for Humber College's "Daily Planet" and Guelph-Humber's "Radix." She graduated from the University of Guelph-Humber in 2010 with honors, receiving her Honors Bachelor of Applied Arts in media studies as well as her Diploma in Journalism.