How to Set Up a Courthouse Wedding

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on May 27, 2023
At a Glance: A courthouse wedding, also known as a civil wedding or civil ceremony, is a nonreligious ceremony for legally marrying your partner with less emphasis on elaborate traditions. It can be completed in less than ten minutes with minimal guests. Customization is possible, and it is presided over by a legal official. Planning involves choosing a location, applying for a marriage license, collecting essential documents, and personalizing the ceremony. Costs vary but are generally affordable. After the ceremony, couples can celebrate in their preferred way.

There are many advantages to having a civil wedding ceremony. A traditional wedding is very expensive and very stressful to organize. Especially in a COVID-19 world, a small, intimate wedding can be very appealing.

A courthouse wedding is cheap, quick, and easy to personalize. You can design the ceremony you want without too many requirements dictating what you should do. 

Let’s take a look at how to set up a courthouse wedding.

What is a Courthouse Wedding?

A courthouse wedding is also known as a civil wedding or civil ceremony. It is a nonreligious ceremony that allows you to legally marry your partner. There is less emphasis on the pomp and circumstance of the event. The focus is on the couple joining in matrimony.

With a courthouse wedding, there tend to be less than ten guests. All in all, a courthouse wedding can be done in less than ten minutes. 

It also doesn’t require any of the customs we usually associate with a wedding. You don’t need a sermon, you don’t have to say vows, and you don’t have to exchange rings. You can of course choose to do whichever of these customs you want to, but they are not legal requirements. Basically, a courthouse wedding can be customized to suit your needs.

Courthouse weddings are presided over by a legal official, such as a judge or court clerk. The Justice of the Peace may say a few words. Then you, your partner, and your witnesses are required to sign the marriage license. After that, you’re married!

How to Set Up a Courthouse Wedding

A courthouse wedding is cheaper and simpler than a traditional wedding ceremony. But you still need to do some planning before the wedding. This will ensure that your special day goes off without a hitch.

Choose the Location

You usually apply for your marriage license at a local government office. But a courthouse wedding doesn’t have to happen in a courthouse. 

Your actual wedding ceremony can be held anywhere from a city hall to a Las Vegas wedding chapel. You can also hire a Justice of the Peace to perform your courthouse wedding at a venue of your choice, such as your backyard.

This is one of the advantages of choosing a civil wedding. It is a nonreligious ceremony, so you have a lot of flexibility over the ceremonial aspect of your wedding. 

There are however some marriage requirements that vary from state to state. For example, some states require that you apply for your marriage license in the same town where you plan on getting married.

Research local regulations once you choose a location. You can usually find this information by looking up the local city clerk’s office. During your research, check whether you need to make an appointment for your courthouse wedding. You can also check whether the courthouse can provide their own witnesses, or whether you have to bring your own. 

Apply for a Marriage License

Once you’ve picked your location and researched the city’s requirements, you need to apply for your marriage license. You usually apply for your marriage license at a city hall or a local government office.

You need to take a valid form of government-issued picture ID with you when you apply for a marriage license. Examples include your driver’s license, your naturalization certificate, or your passport.

If either you or your partner has been divorced, you need to take a copy of the final dissolution (divorce papers) with you when you apply for your marriage license.

You need to take money to pay for the marriage license. Prices vary by state or county. Check with your local city clerk’s office what the marriage license fee is.

Most marriage licenses have an expiration date. This means that you need to schedule your ceremony so that it takes place before the marriage license expires. Some expiration periods are as short as 30 days, while others are as long as 90 days.

Some states have a waiting period between when you receive your marriage license and when you can actually get married. The waiting period can be as short as 24 hours and as long as 6 days.

Take the waiting period and expiration dates into consideration when scheduling your wedding date.

Marriage License vs Marriage Certificate

A marriage license isn’t the same as a marriage certificate. The marriage license is a legal document you and your partner have to apply for before your ceremony. After the courthouse wedding, you, your partner, and your witnesses sign the license. Your officiant returns the license to the city clerk’s office. Then, you receive the marriage certificate.

A marriage certificate is an official record of your marriage. It must be issued by a legitimate government agency, like your local city clerk’s office.

If you want to qualify for a marriage-based visa or green card, you need the official record of your marriage – the marriage certificate.

Collect the Essential Documents

On the day of your courthouse wedding, take a packet of all the essential documents with you. This packet should include:

  • Your marriage license
  • Forms of identification for you and your partner
  • Birth certificates for you and your partner
  • Your social security numbers

You also need to take the money needed to pay for the marriage ceremony.

Remember, you must have at least two witnesses over the age of 18 – one for you, and one for your partner. These people must go with you to the courthouse.

Plan Your Wedding Day

A courthouse wedding doesn’t have a traditional ceremony, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t personalize your special day!

  • Attire – You can wear whatever you like! You can be as formal or as casual as you want.
  • Vows – You can make the ceremony as formal or casual as you want. You might want to say your vows, exchange rings, etc. – and remember to kiss the bride!
  • Guests – You need at least two witnesses but check with your venue about how many guests you are allowed. These ceremonies usually happen during the week during business hours. Make sure that your guests (and witnesses!) are available during those times.
  • Photography.- Check with the courthouse whether you can take photos or video during the ceremony.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Married at the Courthouse?

The cost to get married at the courthouse is anywhere between $25 and $100. Make sure to call your local courthouse for exact fees. 

You will need to pay for the marriage license. In some cases, there is an additional fee for the civil ceremony itself. 

What to Do After Your Courthouse Wedding

A courthouse wedding doesn’t have too much pomp and circumstance and can be over quite quickly! Most people plan something special to do after the ceremony. 

There isn’t one “right” way to celebrate your wedding. You can enjoy a reception at a restaurant, head off on your honeymoon immediately, or book a hotel room for the night (even if it’s in your same city). Choose something fun that both of you would like to do to make your wedding day memorable.

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A courthouse wedding is cheap, quick, and easy to personalize. You can design a ceremony that suits your taste. You can focus on the couple joining in matrimony. If you plan properly, a courthouse wedding can be a fantastic way to celebrate your special day.