When it comes to weddings, most people spend their time planning the elaborate ceremony and reception meant to mark and celebrate their love; sometimes the legal commitment is an afterthought while you’re planning. Depending on who you wish to officiate your wedding ceremony and the kind of wedding you want, you may find that you need to have a separate legal ceremony mostly to file some legal paperwork. This legal ceremony can be as simple or elaborate as you like — a quick stop at the courthouse to sign some legal paperwork or a mini-wedding with guests and a photographer.
When it comes to planning, you’ll want to look up the legal requirements for the state you wish to get married in. Different states will have different requirements regarding fees, needed paperwork, and a time period in which the wedding will take place. Some states have a waiting period requiring you to get your marriage license and have your legal ceremony a few days apart, however others let you do it all in one go. You’ll also want to check and make sure you don’t wait too long. Generally you have about 60 days to have your legal ceremony after you apply for your marriage license before it expires.
Your officiant (who is probably going to be a judge or a legal clerk) will likely check in with you about the sort of ceremony you want and see if you are exchanging rings at the legal ceremony or if there is any other traditional you want to include. You may supply your own vows or they may recite traditional vows for you.
You can bring guests to your ceremony — and in fact you will need witnesses (technical requirements will vary by state). Generally, two witnesses are needed but you will be able to have more guests watch. Some courthouses will have the ceremony in an office space while others have wedding chapels with pews set up to seat a few dozen people. Check in with your courthouse to see how many guests can attend if you’d like to bring friends and family to celebrate with you. Also talk to your guests about attire: you may wish to dress up for the occasion, even if you are saving your wedding gown for your ceremony and reception.
If you want to go all out for your legal ceremony, you may wish to hire a photographer. They may be able to shoot the actual ceremony or be able to do a mini-session with you on the courthouse steps. If you want photos of this day, you may want to check in with a photographer who specializes in elopements as they may be familiar with the venue.
Your legal ceremony might be simple paperwork for your or you might treat it as a separate occasion in its own right. Whatever the case, check in with your state and county to make sure you have all of the information you need to have a smooth day that leaves you and your other half legally married!