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How to Make a Courthouse Wedding Feel Special

Kierstin said "I Do" over seven years ago in front of her local judge. It was actually pretty romantic.

How to Make a Courthouse Wedding Special

  • Wear something you're excited about
  • Bring a friend or hire a photographer to take some pictures
  • Create a small, concise gift registry to share for those who ask for one
  • Put together a playlist to celebrate the day
  • Splurge on a fancy post-wedding meal

When you imagine your perfect wedding day, you envision love, sweet memories, and the beginning of a lifetime with your favorite person—not debt, family fights, and months of intense planning.

Realizing how much of these drawbacks to planning a wedding we could avoid, my husband and I decided to forego the wedding and instead ran away to the courthouse one warm August morning and never looked back.

If you're thinking about courthouse-ing it too (here's how to do it!), check out these tips for saving money and your sanity when you tie the knot without losing the sentiment of a big to-do.


Use Pinterest for Inspiration/Organization

The often overwhelming daydream that is Pinterest could be the very reason you've decided to skip the big to-do in favor of a simple elopement. However, Pinterest can actually be a great place for courthouse wedding ideas and inspiration, from how you want to style your hair, to where to shop for your dream dress. Remember, by not having to pay big bucks for a venue and reception menu, you get to spend more money—and attention—on those in-the-moment details that will make your big day feel more special.

Plus, you can create a secret board to keep all of your ideas organized in one place for easy, accessible reference for that moment where you're standing dumbstruck in front of the florist trying to describe your idea of a perfect bouquet.

Whether you hire a friend or a professional, invest a little in a few newlywed shots. They'll be important to you later on.

Whether you hire a friend or a professional, invest a little in a few newlywed shots. They'll be important to you later on.

Hire a Photographer

I went pretty cheap with my courthouse wedding, and the only part of that I regret is that I wish I'd have hired a photographer to take pictures of my husband and I together and with our families afterward. Now that we have kids we're showing off the one and only picture of us that one of our parents took afterward every time our kids ask about the day we got married.

Whether you hire a photographer to take a few portraits after the ceremony or to follow you around on your newlywed adventures for the rest of the day, this one little touch is the sole thing that will stick around as long as your marriage.

Grab your photographer and head down to all your old haunts—take pictures in front of the restaurant where you had your first date, on the beach where you got engaged.

If hiring a professional photographer isn't in the budget, offer a friend with a creative eye $100 to spend an hour with you after the civil ceremony snapping photos. Have her use your own SD card or iPhone so she can just hand it over afterward and you can enjoy a lifetime of lovely photos.

Create a Small Gift Registry

When you opt-out of a traditional wedding you also let go of the tradition of obligatory wedding gifts. Still, there will be friends, family, and coworkers who'll want to gift the newlyweds out of sheer love and excitement for your new marriage.

For those people, you should create a small registry on Amazon of 15–20 non-frivolous items (think kitchen staples, sheet sets, and towels).

Create a Playlist

Just because you're courthouse-ing it, doesn't mean you should miss out on the dreamy Day Of music. Create a playlist of songs that are meaningful to you and your partner to enjoy wherever and whenever—from the front seat of your ancient Volvo to a tiny post-vow soiree—during your wedding day.

Hire a Musician

Keep in mind that forfeiting a lavish ceremony, venue rentals, and catering opens up other options financially, for the things that will truly make the day intimate and unforgettable.

Consider hiring a violinist or cellist to play for an hour in a private room at a swanky restaurant while you dine with your new in-laws or a folk band to jam at your park picnic while you party it up alfresco with a half dozen of your closest friends.

Embrace the Details

Saving time and money doesn't mean you should ignore the sweet details or your wedding day. Incorporate your mom's vintage veil or your great-grandma's earrings to keep things feeling simple yet intimate.

Saving time and money doesn't mean you should ignore the sweet details or your wedding day. Incorporate your mom's vintage veil or your great-grandma's earrings to keep things feeling simple yet intimate.

Gift Your Guests

If you choose to have guests present at your civil ceremony, gift them something small but meaningful to commemorate the day, like a framed verse or quote that epitomizes the love between you and your partner.

Instead of just having them grab a gift as they go as with traditional wedding favors, present your gifts after the ceremony with a hug and a thank you for sharing in your special day.

Carrying a bouquet made my courthouse wedding feel a lot less criminal.

Carrying a bouquet made my courthouse wedding feel a lot less criminal.

Something to Consider

For a fun outing, visit a u-pick the evening before or the morning of your nuptials and gather flowers and greens for a very personal bouquet and boutonniere. What's more romantic than frolicking in the fresh air?

Print Marriage Announcements

The inevitable awfulness (and possibly the only true downfall to getting courthouse hitched) is the backlash from the uninvited.

Basically, everyone.

Soothe offended distant-relatives, and curious friends with We Got Married! announcements.

Use an app like Minted or Tinyprints to create announcements that include a picture of you and your partner on your wedding day with the courthouse prominently in the background so as to say, "It's not just you—it's everyone!" Include important details like the when and where and a heartfelt note expressing their importance in your lives.

If you or your partner now have a new address, share that too (as a return address will do), so recipients will feel all caught up on your big changes and appreciate that you shared your special news with them.

Oh, but whatever you do, don't hint at gifts or a registry. Unless someone explicitly asks for gifting details, those are for guests who're invited to a reception at least.

Say a Prayer

A little spiritual distraction is just the thing to calm pre-wedding jitters and to bring loved ones together.

Gather your partner and those you've chosen to accompany you to the courthouse for a group prayer. If praying isn't your thing, take a moment to say a few words extolling your gratitude for one another and asking for wisdom for the journey ahead.

Make Something Together

Either before or after the ceremony, make a stop at one of those paint-your-own-pottery places and pick out a piece that you can paint together and display and use everyday (like a cookie jar or a pair of salt and pepper shakers) as a sweet way to commemorate the day.

Make sure to date it!

Party at Home

If you get married during the wintertime or during the dog days of summer but still want to celebrate with a handful of loved ones afterward, liven up your home with fresh bouquets of flowers and snacks at-the-ready and invite everyone over post-ceremony to relax and enjoy each other's company.

Splurge on a Fancy Meal Out

Catering a wedding reception costs somewhere around $25 per guest.

That's like, $100 per family that you invite.

So go ahead, spend a hundred bucks on plates the size of your palm and order two desserts each (so much tastier than dry, pasty wedding cake) while you bask in your newlywed bliss.

While most couples end up scarfing down a cold meal at their reception, take advantage of your quaint day by indulging in your cravings however extravagant or silly.

While most couples end up scarfing down a cold meal at their reception, take advantage of your quaint day by indulging in your cravings however extravagant or silly.

Or Just Eat at Mickey D's

No, but seriously. This is the beauty of bucking tradition. Maybe you don't want to go to some foo-fooey bistro for dinner or, maybe you both just really love Big Macs.

That's cool.

Welcome to marriage, where you'll write the rules, forge news paths, and face the big, bad, unpredictable s.o.b. we call life, together.

Questions & Answers

Question: My fiance and I are getting married in December of this year. Is it necessary to send out save the dates since we're tying the knot at the courthouse?

Answer: No, I wouldn't send out Save the Date's if you're just going to the courthouse - unless you plan to have a reception later that day. If not, there's no need for anyone to save that particular date.

Question: I am having a courthouse wedding in a few days. Is it ok to have a small gathering of friends and family in a couple of months to celebrate? Would it be proper?

Answer: I say go for it! I personally wish I had done this. Hosting a little reception would have made me feel like we'd done a better job meshing our families early on (although everyone still meshed, haha) and been a special alternative to an all-out wedding ceremony and expensive dinner reception.

Question: Is it stupid to wear an actual wedding dress when getting married at the courthouse?

Answer: I don't think so! I've seen people do it - I had a dress custom made for my courthouse wedding and wore it for all of 15 minutes so in my opinion, no, you do you and love every minute of it! I would even Google or Pinterest search courthouse wedding pictures to see how other brides dressed for their day so you can see that many people get into the spirit even if they're not having a full-fledged ceremony.

One thing I just want to pass along though is that, as far as full-length gowns go, it might end up being a pain in the butt because you'll likely be walking up courthouse steps and getting wanded-down to make sure you're not carrying any weapons (so charming, I know). I love ModCloth's section of on-trend, beautiful but practical gowns.

© 2014 Kierstin Gunsberg


Erica on October 22, 2019:

Only thing that makes me feel specail is my man and my wedding dress

Antulove on October 10, 2019:

No yes you can use wedding grown for courthouse wedding but without veil and not to long they no space for long wedding grown.

Sara on March 10, 2018:

We will probably ride the Harley and eat at Chick-Fil-A afterwards!

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on December 20, 2017:

Jodi, it's a lot of fun for some couples but for us it was just hell. I'm so excited for you and hope you enjoy your special day as much as I did mine :)

Jodi on December 19, 2017:

This is what we are doing! So much better! No stress and planned it in 3 weeks. We were tired of trying to figure the best place and time and details of a wedding and we said 'forget it!

Kierstin Gunsberg (author) from Traverse City, Michigan on August 16, 2016:

Angela, I definitely wish I would have done that when I got married! I loved the experience of getting married at the courthouse and my husband and I had a really lovely day, I just wish I had proper photos to remember it by.

Angela Czmiel from New York on January 20, 2016:

Hiring a photographer to make a courthouse wedding special is really a great idea..this will make your wedding memorable.