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.
Letting Family and Friends Know That You're Getting Married at the Courthouse
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.
You Can Invite Guests If You Want
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.
Where to Find a Courthouse Wedding Dress
Just because you're skipping the big ceremony doesn't mean you can't make your big day special! If one or both of you wants to wear a dress but you don't want to go all-out with a gown, retailers from ModCloth to Macy's are beginning to catch onto the less-is-more trend when it comes to wedding attire at the right price point. For my own courthouse wedding I had a dress made for me on Etsy, and it cost about the same price as many of the bridesmaid dresses I wore before that.
Can You Have Flowers or a Bouquet in the Courthouse?
The answer for me was yes, but it doesn't hurt to check with your own courthouse, especially in light of tighter restrictions in the past couple of years. If you have the go-ahead, keep in my that you don't have to adorn eight other girls with flowers, so 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.
Should You Hire a Photographer Even if You're Not Having a Full Wedding?
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.
What to Bring With You to Get Married
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!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
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.Helpful 38
What is the cost of a marriage license in Florida?
The cost of a marriage license in Florida is just under $100, but you'll receive a small discount if you complete a premarital counseling course. To find out exactly how much your license will cost, and any available discounts you can call your county's courthouse for specific numbers.Helpful 21
What are the vows if you haven't prepared your own when getting married at the courthouse?
That's a really good question and it's possible that this varies from state to state, but here in Michigan where I was married, the judge just went through a quick ceremonial vow that was pretty similar to the end of every formal wedding ceremony I've ever attended which go something like "By the power invested in me by the state of ___ I now pronounce you husband and wife (or wife and wife or husband and husband)" and then my judge got extra fancy and said "You may now kiss your bride" although I don't know if that's part of the legal thing he had to say.
There was no "I do" stuff though, that I recall. I believe that's more of a church/religious tradition than a legal/state one. For me, I would say it took about 30 seconds for us to become legally married.Helpful 17
Can you take the time to say vows at a courthouse wedding?
I didn't do this but it's my understanding from other couples' experiences that yes, you can say your own vows at a courthouse wedding. You can always ask beforehand too - either when you get there or by calling the magistrate's office to find out ahead of time.Helpful 17
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.Helpful 13
© 2013 Kierstin Gunsberg