Getting Hitched: How to Get Married at the Courthouse
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:
- 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.
- Find the phone number to your local circuit court (this is where you apply for the marriage license). (You can Google this! Yay, Google!)
- 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!
- Find the phone number for your local courthouse. (Google to the rescue again!)
- 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).
- 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
How old do we need to be?
When will we actually get the license?
Do we need one?
Who has to be there to apply?
What kind of proof do we need that we're not married anymore?
How long is it good for?
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 can we get married and how do we set up the appointment?
What do we need?
Marriage license, money, etc.
Who can come besides witnesses?
How many do we need?
Where exactly can the ceremony be performed?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Questions & Answers
When I get married, how do I change my first name at the same time I change my last?
To change both your first and last name, you'll need to contact your local courthouse and find out what paperwork and documentation you'll need. You'll probably need to file a formal petition to change your first name.
If I get married in a courthouse now, can I have an actual wedding later?
Oh, absolutely! You would basically just be getting the legalities out of the way. Then when you had your actual wedding, it would be just like any other wedding, except that you wouldn't have to worry about signing a marriage license since that would have been done at the courthouse.
Do we need to bring a witness to the courthouse to get married?
Yes, you should each plan on bringing a witness to the courthouse! We did. However, if that's an extra hassle for you, it doesn't hurt to call up your local courthouse and find out exactly what their rules are on witnesses.
What questions at the courthouse do I have to answer before I get married?
It may differ from state to state, but when I got married, I needed to have a valid ID. There are not any official questions to answer other than the paperwork for the marriage license which included questions like my date of birth, my social security number and my address.
It’s possible I also had to confirm that I wasn’t blood related to my partner, but that was only through the paperwork and not a blood test or any other documentation.
It’s very informal and requires surprisingly little in terms of information.
© 2013 Kierstin Gunsberg