"We're going to the courthouse, and we're going to get married," sang The Crystals back in the '60s. But even today, exchanging vows before a justice of the peace is a viable alternative to ulcer-producing, bank-account-draining weddings. A courthouse wedding is easy and cheap, and it usually can be arranged on short notice.
Getting the License
The first of several steps to get married by a justice of the peace is to acquire the license. Figure out what agency or department issues marriage licensees in the jurisdiction in which you want to get married. Look online on the court's website or give them a call. Marriages aren't always performed at a courthouse. In Indiana, it's the clerk of court who issues the licenses. In Stow County, Ohio, you go to the Summit County License Bureau, which is in the county's probate court.
The information required to get a license also varies among jurisdictions. In most states, both people must show up and sign the application. However, you can often start the process online by filling out the two names and any other information the jurisdiction requires. In Orange County, a photo identification does the trick. In Indiana, you'll need your Social Security number and information about your parents. In Trenton, New Jersey, a witness over the age of 18 must be present at the time you apply.
The fee for the license varies: You can pay under $20 or more than $50. You may have to pay in cash, or you may be required to pay by credit card. Call ahead, so you know before you go.
Scheduling the Marriage
The time in which you can use your marriage license also varies, depending on where you get it. In Orange County, California, you must use it within 90 days, while in Trenton, New Jersey, you need to get married within 30 days after issuance. In Maryland, a 48-hour waiting period is required after application; then you may use the license any time during the next six months. In Indiana, you can be married the same day you get the license. In some places, it costs a lot more if neither you nor your prospective spouse is a resident of that county or city.
To schedule a civil ceremony at the courthouse, you need to call the appropriate office. Yes, that also varies between jurisdictions, so be sure to get the number when you get the license. Then, just get yourself to the ceremony on time.
With a Master's in English, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's law school, Teo Spengler is up on education. She splits her home time between San Francisco and France. A perpetual student and frequent teacher, she is also a writer and world traveler. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Arizona Central, Fairmont Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites.