How to Get Married at the Courthouse

Updated on July 31, 2018
Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

It's been 5+ years since Kierstin and her husband got courthouse-hitched on a hot August morning- after being checked for weapons of course.

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There are like, a million reasons to get married in a courthouse. Maybe you or your future spouse is shy. Maybe you can’t afford a big wedding or you just like to do things simply. Or maybe you're madly in love and can’t wait another day to be together.

Whatever your reason, eloping to the courthouse is no longer filled with the taboo that it was two decades ago. Instead, eloping embodies thriftiness as well as the romantic ideal of marrying for love, not the spotlight. These days there are a lot of ways to make a courthouse wedding charming, classy, and totally memorable.

Getting Started: The Steps to Get to the Courthouse Steps

Before you delve into the details of getting courthouse-hitched, you should know a couple of things. Here's a basic outline of the process:

  1. Gather you and your spouse-to-be's driver's licenses or State ID’s, birth certificates, and social security numbers to have on hand.
  2. Find the phone number to your local circuit court (this is where you apply for the marriage license). (You can Google this! Yay, Google!)
  3. Get information (either by calling or looking online) from the circuit court on how to apply for a marriage license and what you need. Then, apply for it!
  4. Find the phone number for your local courthouse. (Google to the rescue again!)
  5. Call or get information from the courthouse on the process and requirements for getting married (more on this below). Make a date and a reservation (if needed).
  6. Make sure you have everything (and everyone) you need, and then get hitched!

Applying for The Marriage License

In most states, applying for a marriage license is pretty simple. First, you'll need to call your local circuit court and find out what the requirements are for a marriage license application. Finding the number is easy—just Google "Circuit county court phone number [your city here]." A lot of this information is available online as well, so try our friend Google and it may not be necessary to call.

In nearly every state you'll both need a valid driver’s license or state ID, an original birth certificate (not a copy), and cash to pay the application fee.

Once you've applied, you'll be given a day to come back and pick the license up.

Here's a handy list of questions to ask when you call the circuit court:

  • What is the application fee and how should we pay for it?

  • What documentation should we bring with us?

  • Do we both need to be present to apply?

  • Do you require a blood test or premarital counseling? (In most states these are both outdated practices but if you're in Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi, or Montana, a blood test may be required.

  • What is the wait after we apply? (In most states there is a mandatory wait after applying for the marriage license. In Michigan for instance, you must wait three business days after the application is received to actually get married.)

  • When does the application expire? (in most states your marriage application will expire after 30 days and you will have to apply for a new one if you don't get married within that period.)

What to Find Out About Your Marriage Licenses

Age requirement
How old do we need to be?
Issuance time
When will we actually get the license?
Blood test
Do we need one?
Attendance
Who has to be there to apply?
Other marriages
What kind of proof do we need that we're not married anymore?
License validity
How long is it good for?
Wait time
How long do we have to wait to get married after we get the license?

Questions to Ask When You Call the Courthouse

The documents you need to bring and the rules you must abide by vary from state to state, and sometimes even county to county, so it's important to call your local courthouse before the big day to figure out the exact requirements. Like the above, sometimes this information is available online and calling might not be necessary.

By the way, this is not the same as calling the circuit court, which is the governing body—the courthouse is the specific place you'll be getting married. Just FYI!

Here are some questions to ask when you call:

  • What forms of identification do we need to bring?

  • Is there a fee we'll need to pay when we get there? How can we pay the fee?

  • Are children allowed?

  • Is flash photography or any photography allowed inside the courthouse?

  • How many guests, if any, may we bring?

  • Will the civil ceremony take place at a desk or in a court room?

  • Should we set up an appointment or can we come in any time? Is there an online reservation system?

  • Do we each need to bring a witness?

What to Know About the Courthouse Ceremony

When?
When can we get married and how do we set up the appointment?
What do we need?
Marriage license, money, etc.
Guests?
Who can come besides witnesses?
Witnesses?
How many do we need?
Where?
Where exactly can the ceremony be performed?
Photography?
What's allowed? Is video okay too?

Did You Lose a Document?

Don't worry! It's fairly easy to get a new copy of your birth certificate and social security card.

If you've lost your birth certificate you can recover this from the county you were born in, either online or in-person.

For a missing social security card, contact your local social security office and let them know your dilemma. They'll let you know what to bring in to replace the card.

Beyond the Paperwork: Celebrating a Courthouse Wedding

Letting Family and Friends Know

Some of your family and friends may ask, "Why, what's wrong?" in reply to your decision to get married at the courthouse, to which you can simply answer, "Nothing, we're just in love and don't want to worry about anything else."

The truth is, some people are just offended that you'd choose to get married without them.

The Guests

While you may decide to forego bringing your families along, don't assume you have to. Most courthouses allow a small showing of guests for the "ceremony."

Regardless of who's invited, you'll both probably need to bring a witness along to sign the final papers.

Source

The Duds

Getting married in a courthouse doesn't mean you have to dress like you're going to jail (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.)

You're getting married, so dress the part! Pull that dress you never thought you'd get the chance to wear from the back of the closet or check out online retailers like Modcloth, ShopRuche, Etsy, or even Forever21 for awesome deals on little white dresses. If you want that classic mother-daughter-dress shopping memory, shop your local boutiques for a dress you'll wear again this summer, or just go all out and head to the bridal shop.

As for guys, they'll be relieved that they don’t have to worry about coordinating colors with the bridesmaids and can instead focus on picking an outfit that makes them feel both suave and comfortable.

Flowers

When you don't have to adorn eight other girls with flowers, the options for yourself suddenly get a lot more fun (and cheap!)

If it's summertime, make your way to a U-Pick flower farm with friends and put together a bouquet. Keep it in the fridge in a jar of water for up to a day and wrap it with floral tape and ribbon or lace on the morning of your big day. If you're looking for a little less work, hit up a florist for a mid-week special, or even grab a dozen fresh roses from your grocer and wrap 'em yourself.

Pictures, or It Didn't Happen

Most professional photographers (especially if it's the off-season, November-April) will offer a discount for courthouse weddings, since the time they have to invest is more like one hour, instead of eight. They would also be happy to squeeze in a mid-week shoot as most courthouse marriages take place during the week instead of on the weekend due to government business hours.

Even if the photographer isn't allowed in the courthouse you can set up a time to meet outside afterward for some quick professional shots, or plan to head out to a pretty location for a post-nuptials photo session.

Source

To Party or Not to Party?

Just because you've chosen to tie the knot quietly, doesn't mean you can't enjoy a post-courthouse party! Spend a fraction of the money you've saved by not having a wedding on a once-in-a-lifetime super-expensive dinner for the two of you, or order a box of gourmet cupcakes to share with your families on the beach afterward.

Arriving at the Courthouse: The Checklist

Make sure you have these things on hand when you arrive at the courthouse!

  • Marriage license
  • Two buddies—a witness each for the bride and groom
  • Cash fee to pay the magistrate
  • Both of your driver's licenses' or state ID

What to Expect

When you arrive at the courthouse you'll have to go through a quick security checkpoint where you may be inspected with a hand-held metal detector (all part of the charm of the day!).

Next, you'll check in and let them know that you're there to get married.

You may have to wait either for your turn to come up, or for your pre-scheduled appointment.

After your turn comes up you'll either be directed to a small courtroom, an office, or a little cubicle, wherever the magistrate or judge is working.

The magistrate may say a few words and then have you, your spouse, and the witnesses sign the license in front of him. Altogether, this takes about one minute.

Voila! You're married!

Source

Questions & Answers

  • Can you walk down the aisle when getting married in the courthouse?

    It really just depends on how big the room you get married in is. I've seen it done! And the court room that I was married in left a little bit of room for me to walk down the aisle.

  • Could I get married on the weekend at my local courthouse?

    Since government institutions aren't typically open on weekends, you won't be able to get married on the weekend.

  • Which courthouses are you able to get married at?

    As far as I know, any county courthouse will marry you. If you're in doubt, you should call them up and ask if they perform civil ceremonies, as well as what you should do to prepare for one.

  • Do we both have to be present in order to get married?

    Yes, as far as I know, you do. You'll both need to sign the paperwork at the same time with separate witnesses in attendance, with the magistrate present.

© 2013 Kierstin Gunsberg

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    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 months ago

      Hi, Kierstin -- no, thank you, good friend, for the kindness. I can say that by the Grace of God, there am I. Going to one of my regular doctor's appointment tomorrow and then have an early dinner then home. The round-trip really wipes me out.

      Sorry. I do not feel like giving you any Beach Boys references.

      You stay in touch with me.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      4 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Kenneth, thank you for the update! Though I was upset to hear you were having health issues, I'm glad that you're on the upswing.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      4 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Tom, you can call your court house to find out for sure but when I got married I only paid the marriage license fee. I don't think I had to pay a fee for the quick courthouse ceremony. Though, as I said, you should still call and check since regulations can vary from state to state.

    • profile image

      Tom 

      4 months ago

      Just want to get married at the court house license $77.o what is the fee for the court house.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Kierstin -- as per your nice phrase, "as life goes," in your reply to my comment, I can tell you that in all honesty, (my) "life goes" category can be labeled as "Life/Health Issues."

      I have had two strokes and a bout with congestive heart failure and with the Grace of God, (which I say unapologetically and with respect), I am still living.

      Of course, I am under the care of a heart specialist and his troupe of nurse practitioners and bookkeepers, etc.

      This was and is the truth. I am not as young as I used to be and I know now the value of dreams.

      Stay in touch with me and my best to you, Kierstin.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      4 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hi, Mirta! This I don't know for sure but if you call your county courthouse they should be able to answer the question for you.

    • profile image

      Mirta 

      4 months ago

      do they accept birth certificates from foreign contries?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      6 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hi, Andrew! Yes, birth certificates can be quite the conundrum. Since retrieving a birth certificate varies from state to state, the first thing you need to do is find the vital records website for the state that you were born in and find out what their requirements for obtaining a new copy are.

      Also, call the county that you are planning to get married in and ask what their requirements are because some counties don't even require a birth certificate.

    • profile image

      Andrew Richard 

      6 months ago

      My name is Andrew Richard and my ffiancee is getting married in June she has her Social Security and birth certificate driver license. I have social security card state ID but I lost my birth certificate we both have SSI checks and we like to get married she'll be here June 1st or to second and would like to get on our lives in Florida can you help us please we are in love

    • profile image

      Christina Teal 

      7 months ago

      Hey y'all my fiance and I will be married on Valentine's day I'm a little nervous because he doesn't have his birth certificate I'd or ss card lol helllllpppppll

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      8 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Helen, I think that's a really fantastic idea! If I had had more forethought, the one thing I would go back and do is hire a photographer.

      A few things I can think of to reach your audience is:

      - Through Facebook. I know that there are a lot of changes coming to pages and ads on Facebook but I still think it's a good idea. You can utilize specific keywords like "Courthouse Wedding Photographer" in your name to help people locate you in search.

      - Local tourist guides, like those ones that sit out in restaurant lobbies and feature a lot of ads. Locals read those (I'm one of them)!

      - Word of mouth. You could ask local florists and dress shops if you can leave a stack of cards on their register and tell them you'd be willing to list them as well on your own website.

      Good luck, I think it could be a very lucrative niche!

    • profile image

      Helen P Cherry 

      8 months ago

      I am a 30 year pro wedding photographer. I want to photograph courthouse wedding during the week. Trying to figure out how to get to these couples to offer my services.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      8 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Wow Roy, it sounds like one of those "When you know, you know" moments! Congratulations!

    • profile image

      Roy Dean 

      8 months ago

      We got a court house wedding, We were married July 31 1984 at 5:05 .after three day of knowing each other. We been happy married for 32 years

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      8 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Patricia, I'm glad to hear that you two are still friends and that you can remember your marriage with fondness!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      8 months ago from sunny Florida

      In Albany Georgia in the courthouse my future husband and I were remarried. I can remember it now as if it just happened...the date was August 31 1971. I wore a brown and beige dress that was belted at the waist. We remained married for nine years and then parted ways. Many fond memories remain and we are still friends. Angels are on the way this morning ps

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      8 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Sharon, thanks for sharing with me :) It's only been five years for us but I truly don't regret the way we got married. I think it set a relaxed precedence for the rest of our life together.

    • Sharlee01 profile image

      Sharlee 

      8 months ago

      I so enjoyed your article... My husband and I were married at a courthouse. We have been married 51 years, and still remember our wedding day as a day that was special, and one of the happiest days of our lives. Thank you for stirring a wonderful memory...

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      9 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hi Lucinda, yes, you will need to make an appointment to get married at the courthouse. You can usually do this just by calling and reserving a time slot.

      The other thing you need to make sure you have is a marriage license and in most states there is a waiting period of a few days after filing.

    • profile image

      Lucinda Garcia 

      9 months ago

      If i wamted gwt arried tomorrow in the couet house do i need to make appointment

    • profile image

      psyraubie48 

      10 months ago

      Silly me...did notknowbeing married in the courthouse was taboo in 1971 when I married my daughter's daddy.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      11 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey, Lori! She can absolutely bring her baby! If she wants to call and double check with her local courthouse, that couldn't hurt but I've never heard of that being an issue (and I had a minor, a 7-year-old at my own courthouse wedding).

      As far as I know there are no dress requirements, I don't see coming in jeans being an issue at all. They'll probably wand ya down to make sure you're not carrying any contraband (so romantic!) but other than that, it's pretty casual.

    • profile image

      Lori 

      11 months ago

      Can you bring your 5 month old baby? My daughter is getting married next week and wants to bring her baby. Also, they want to come in jeans! Any dress requirements?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      11 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Once you obtain your marriage license you don't have to get married at the court house, Jaqueline. You can use it to have an officiant hold a ceremony. Wherever and whenever you get married, you just must have a marriage license.

    • profile image

      Jaqueline Silva 

      11 months ago

      After aply for a martiage license we have to go to the court house or we can get someone oficiat to marry us on a ceremony will be? Thats my question

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      12 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Thanks for reading, Larry! When my husband and I were preparing to get married I had so many questions about how to actually GET married - there's a lot of red tape that can be difficult to find information on, so that's why I wrote this article.

      Originally, we were planning a wedding but every aspect of it just felt so stressful that it was like trying to run through mud - it wasn't fun. We called off our wedding, floundered in a weird limbo of being engaged but having no idea how we were going to go about tying the knot and then one day we just looked at each other and said, "This is really stupid. Let's just go get married!" Over five years in I can still say that was an a-plus decision and the best way to start off our marriage - on our OWN terms.

      Happy almost-anniversary to you and your wife! 47 years is quite the adventure.

    • Larry Fish profile image

      Larry W Fish 

      12 months ago from Raleigh

      This is an excellent article, Kierstin. I know so many people spend a lot of money on a fancy wedding that strains their budget to the max. If two people are in love it doesn't matter if it is a simple wedding in a courthouse or the wedding like they are royalty. As an example I was a young Airmen stationed in the Philippines when I met a young Filipino woman that worked in the Airmen's club on Clark AFB in the Philippines. Naturally we were both struggling for money. So we had a simple wedding at our rented home and was married by a judge. I guess keeping it simple works, my wife and I will be married 47 years in December.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      13 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hi Melinda! It depends on your county/state. Here in Michigan we had to wait three days. I would just google "Marriage license [your county]" and your county website should come up with the information.

    • profile image

      Melinda 

      13 months ago

      Hello after getting the wedding licence how long can you wait to get married? Is there available date pretty close i mean can i get married the next day?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      13 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey Kenneth! I know how life goes - it gets busy :) Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read again though!

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      13 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Karen, I did get married at the court house :) Five years ago on Tuesday, actually!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      14 months ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Kiersten!

      Do you mean that it has been THREE years since I commented on this fine hub?

      I have to admit this to you, but " I am so, so sorry. I ask your forgiveness. But there is a solid reason: Life happens in ways that even your talent of writing cannot fathom ."

      Again, I am sorry for not responding as much.

      Peace.

      And keep writing these great pieces.

    • Karen Hellier profile image

      Karen Hellier 

      14 months ago from Georgia

      Nice hub, and what a great idea too. I love the pictures you included. I found myself wondering if you actually got married at a courthouse?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      14 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey Keith! My husband and I got married in a Michigan court house and my brother was my witness and his dad was his witness. My understanding is that in most states whether you get married in a courthouse or a traditional ceremony, each partner needs to have a witness to sign the marriage certificate. It wouldn't hurt to just ring up the courthouse you plan to get married at and find out for sure, but I feel comfortable giving you a solid yes, you need a witness (two, actually) to get married at the courthouse.

    • profile image

      Keith 

      14 months ago

      Do you have to have a witness to get married at court house?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      15 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Amber, that's NOT a silly question and it's also one I don't have a solid answer to because laws seem to vary by state. From my general understanding a witness will need to be 21 years of age and in some places has to be a non-relative. However, in Michigan I was the witness (I was 21) for my sister when she got married so your best bet is to call the courthouse you plan to get married at and get the official word from them so you can plan :)

    • profile image

      Amber 

      15 months ago

      I know this is a silly question, but how old can a witness be? My sister is 17 and getting married in July and I want her to be my witness when I get married at the courthouse in October.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      20 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Absolutely, Gabrielle. I can understand that. In many courthouses you actually can walk down a little aisle - like between the rows of chairs. Getting married at the courthouse is definitely not for everyone though, especially if you feel you'll regret some of the details of a bigger celebration.

    • profile image

      Gabrielle 

      20 months ago

      The only thing I don't like about having a courthouse wedding is my dad won't be able to walk me down the aisle. This is only thing that's keeping me from doing this.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      21 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey Roxanne, I don't have clear answers for your situation but I hope that everything worked out. I would guess that he would need a valid ID (doesn't have to be a driver's license, it could most likely also be a State ID) and no warrants out. The courthouse is not somewhere that one can easily hide those sorts of circumstances.

      Best of luck.

    • profile image

      roxanne 

      23 months ago

      What if your spouse doest have an id... Also.... warrant for his Arrest. ?? Plz help I'm so worried but really want to get married !!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      2 years ago from sunny Florida

      O my...courthouse wedding...I hope you loved it as much as it sounds like you might.

      I was married at the courthouse in Albany, GA, in 1972. (We had 9+ pretty good years together). Our marriage came off with no fanfare but it was perfect for us at the time.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      2 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey JH, we didn't say vows. The day we were set to get married the magistrate was conveniently gone (boo!) but they scrambled to find a judge and he was so excited to not be on trial that he wanted to make it special so he said a few words and ended it with "you may now kiss your bride!" but typically you'll just meet with the magistrate and sign the marriage license. No vows!

    • profile image

      JH 

      2 years ago

      when you get married in the courthouse do you have to say vows? or do they just sign and your done?

    • sukhneet profile image

      Sukhneet Kaur Bhatti 

      2 years ago from India

      interesting hub

    • Jamine profile image

      Alicia Bell 

      2 years ago from Farmington, Maine

      I love this!! My husband and I were married at our Town Office and had a wonderful time- just the two of us. I think this article on the Courthouse wedding is absolutely wonderful and filled with great information.

    • profile image

      ChinaSimmonds 

      2 years ago

      I am nervous about getting hitched at the courthouse, I do wish to hold a real ceremony in Vegas at one of their wedding chapels. But it will be just the two of us and I am not asking for any of my friends or family to be our witness, being that we would have to pay for their flight and food so wish us luck!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Kenneth hatmaker 

      3 years ago

      Me and my girl are gettin marryed in a week and i cant wait

    • Emily Solorzano profile image

      Emily Solorzano 

      3 years ago from Chino, California

      Thanks so much for this! I've been toying with this idea for a while and think I finally decided it's what I want, and seeing all this really helps me form a better idea!

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 

      3 years ago

      Funny title and very informative content. Great job on this hub, Kierstin!

    • profile image

      luckyinlove 

      3 years ago

      Ur marrying the one u love not ur family or friends so follow ur heart & get married where ever u feel!! I did it too bad it didnt last but it was him not where we married!!

    • profile image

      Kayla 

      3 years ago

      Loved reading this! You're on the same page as me. This is exactly how my fiancé and I feel, one week from now we will be doing the same thing!

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile imageAUTHOR

      Kierstin Gunsberg 

      3 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Bravewarrior, I loved my little courthouse wedding! If I could do it all over again though, I would have had a photographer, and a reception afterward. I do regret those two things. That being said, two years and a surprise baby later, we're still really glad for the way our wedding day played out. It was a quiet, lovely day and I don't think I got stressed once (except when the magistrate didn't show up--but the day was saved by a judge who was super excited to "marry" us!)

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      4 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Kierstin,

      Great read. Wonderful story and presentation. Never read a story about getting hitched at the courthouse, but you nailed it.

      Voted up and away--keep up the great work.

      I cordially-invite you to read a couple of my hubs and then become one of my followers.

      I would love that.

      Kenneth Avery/ from northwest Alabama

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      5 years ago from Central Florida

      My second husband and I got married at the courthouse. We were planning a simple wedding in a park by the water. When friends started butting in and making it more gradiose than we wanted, we opted for the courthouse. It was just the two of us. I wore a skirt and top I'd picked up at a consignment shop. No flowers, no frills. We had no reception, rather headed to the beach for the weekend.

      Six years later we got divorced at the same courthouse!

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