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How to Get Married at the Courthouse & What to Expect

Sometimes the thought of planning a big wedding feels a little overwhelming. So, I did some research about what to expect when getting married at the courthouse.

So what should I expect if I get married at the courthouse? Courthouse weddings tend to have 10 or fewer guests. The cost is cheaper and it takes less time to get through the ceremony. There is less emphasis on the events of the day and more on the couple joining in matrimony.

Eloping might seem a little taboo, but it’s actually more common today than you might think. There are various things you need to know about what happens at a courthouse wedding.

There seems to be a stigma around getting married at a courthouse. People often relate it a secret wedding or “shotgun wedding” when it really isn’t. There are a lot of great reasons to have a courthouse wedding, especially after the Covid pandemic started.

If you’re thinking of having a courthouse wedding during the Covid-19 pandemic, please check with your local courthouse to see if they are offering these services. You may need to hire a justice of the peace to perform a backyard wedding instead of getting married in the actual courthouse.

Either way, the information below will give you a good idea of what to expect and everything you need to know!

How to Get Married at the Courthouse

If you’re planning to get married by the justice of the peace, there are different steps to be taken then if you were planning a traditional wedding. Here is what you need to know:

What you Need

When you decide to get married at the courthouse, you might be wondering what you need to bring with you. Here is a checklist of things you’ll need.

  1. State issued drivers licence or IDs

  2. Birth certificates

  3. Social security numbers

  4. At least two witnesses, one for the bride and one for the groom

  5. Money to pay the associated fees

  6. Marriage licence

What to Expect When You Arrive at the Courthouse

You’ll have to go through metal detectors and security to get into the courthouse. Then you’ll let them know that you are there to get married.

When you are called in, you’ll be directed to a courtroom, office, or wherever the justice of the peace is working.

The justice of the peace may say a few words. Lastly, he/she will ask you and your witnesses to sign your marriage license. That’s it, you’re married!

If you want to do more than just sign the paper, you could say vows, exchange rings, and of course, kiss the bride!

All in all, a courthouse wedding can be done in less than 10 minutes.

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. With the average cost of a wedding in the US being around $30,000, eloping is certainly more cost effective.

Below is a table showing the approximate costs for getting married at the courthouse in each state. Be sure to call your local courthouse for exact fees. These are rough numbers as some states have different costs depending on the county. Additionally, you may receive a discount for going through premarital counseling.

What to Do After Your Courthouse Wedding

You could have a simple “reception” at a restaurant if you don’t want to book a venue. If you’re trying to save money, let your guests know that its a “cash reception”, meaning the guest will need to pay for their own meal.

Another idea is to reserve an event room at a steakhouse or nice restaurant. You can even have a small cake delivered to the restaurant, in some cases.

If you don’t plan on having anyone to celebrate with you, it might be fun to book a nice hotel for the night (even if it’s in your same city). Take a walk by the beach or hike in the mountains. Choose something fun that you both would like to do and that will make the day memorable.

Do You Have to Make an Appointment?

You will want to call your local courthouse to make sure, but normally you will need to make an appointment. Some states have a wait-period after the marriage license has been issued.

Additionally, you will need to bring two witnesses for your courthouse wedding. Make sure to contact them ahead of time so that you can ensure they will be there to sign your marriage certificate. However, be sure to ask the courthouse as some can provide their own witnesses.

Planning a Courthouse Wedding

Depending on how big you want your courthouse wedding to be, there are a few things you can do to plan ahead.

Send special wedding invitations.

Since you’re planning a very small wedding, you can splurge a little on extra special wedding invitations to your guests.

Get a simple, yet beautiful dress (and a suit for the groom). Just because you’re getting married at the courthouse doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful dress. Look for something that’s simple and comfortable, but also beautiful.

Get flowers and corsages.

You may want to get small bouquets for yourself and your witness. Additionally, you can get corsages for the groom, his witness, and your guests.

Ask one or two of your guests to take pictures. Instead of hiring an expensive photographer (which is perfectly fine too), you might want to ask a couple of your guests to take pictures of your special day.

Plan a fun reception. Pick a restaurant or rent a venue where you can invite more guests to celebrate and dance. Make your post-wedding activities something that makes the day even more special and that you’ll always remember.

What Should the Bride and Groom Wear?

You can wear whatever you would like! One thing you might want to consider is if you plan on having pictures of your courthouse wedding. You might want to dress up a little for your memories.

If you plan on celebrating afterwards, be sure to wear something that accommodates the post wedding festivities.

The bride may choose to wear a nice dress but something less formal than a traditional wedding gown. If this is the case the groom should wear dress pants, a button-down shirt, and a blazer jacket. The bride may also choose to do something special like get her hair and nails done before hand.

However, it’s also completely fine if you decide to get married in blue jeans and a t-shirt. Whatever best fits your style as a couple is perfectly acceptable.

How to Make an Elopement Special

Perhaps you want a small, intimate wedding but you’re not fond of the courthouse feel or atmosphere. There are a few things you can do to make your elopement special.

Choose a sentimental location. Maybe it’s the location where you first met. Maybe it’s a quiet place on the beach or in a park. Choose a place where you would feel comfortable and special.

Add a traditional feel. Your elopement doesn’t have to only include the legal mumbo-jumbo. Recite your own vows, exchange rings, have a friend sing a special song, etc. Any of these traditional elements will add something special to your elopement.

Hire a photographer for your special day. Just because you didn’t go all out on the dresses, flowers, and venue doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have special pictures to remember the day. Since you saved money on leaving out many of the traditional wedding expenses, you can splurge a little on a great photographer.

Do something special afterward. Plan something like a horse-drawn carriage ride, go somewhere special to take photos or pop open a bottle of champagne and enjoy a romantic night just the two of you.

Related Questions

Are you legally married with just a marriage license? A marriage license is a document that proves you are married. Once it is signed by you, your spouse, the officiant, and your witnesses, you are legally married. You do not need an official ceremony to be legally married.

Can you have a bridal shower if you elope? If you secretly got married, it would not be appropriate to have a bridal shower. However, if you simply eloped because you wanted a small simple wedding, a bridal shower would be a nice way to celebrate.

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Hi, I’m Kristin. While I haven’t found my Prince Charming yet, I’ve been dreaming of getting married for a long long time. I started this site as a place to record all the things I’ve found and researched in preparation for my own wedding someday. I can’t wait to share it all with you!

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