The Ultimate Guide to Planning a Courthouse Wedding

October 19, 2023 | riley

Image by Flora Gibson

As more couples shift away from the idea of planning a full-blown wedding with hundreds of guests, we’re seeing more and more courthouse weddings. Although they’re small, we can’t help but love when two people care about their love more than having a party, and tie the knot in their local city hall. However, while having a courthouse wedding is much simpler than a traditional wedding, there’s still a lot to know.

Whether you’re opting for this route due to budget constraints or a desire for simplicity, this ultimate guide will help you plan a memorable courthouse wedding and answer any questions you may have.

Image by Scarlet Roots

How To Plan a Courthouse Wedding 

Decide on the Date and Location

Like any other wedding, the first step to planning a courthouse is deciding on the date and location. Contact your local courthouse (or one that’s in a destination you hope to visit) to inquire about available dates and times for wedding ceremonies. Many courthouses offer weekday and weekend options. 

Budget for Your Courthouse Wedding

Courthouse weddings are often more budget-friendly than traditional ceremonies, but costs can vary depending on your location. Be prepared to budget for marriage license fees, officiant fees, witness fees, and any additional services or decorations you want to include. We’ll get into how much you can expect to pay for a courthouse wedding a little later.

Obtain a Marriage License

Visit your local courthouse to apply for a marriage license. Requirements and waiting periods vary by jurisdiction, so check with your local government office for specific details. Bring necessary identification and any required documents (such as your driver’s license, state I.D. card, or passport).

Decide on Your Guest List

Courthouse weddings are typically smaller affairs, so deciding who you want to invite is important. Do you want it to be just the two of you with a big party with your friends and family afterward? Or do you want your closest loved ones there? The choice is entirely up to you. However, once you have the courthouse picked out, we recommend seeing how many witnesses (if any) are required and what the maximum number of guests is.

Plan Your Vows and Ceremony

Lastly, discuss the ceremony details with the courthouse staff or your chosen officiant. You can write your own vows or use traditional ones. Whatever you choose, make it personal and meaningful to you both. There’s also no pressure to read vows if you don’t want to. That’s the best part about a wedding–it’s entirely up to you and what you’re comfortable with.

Image by Mady Noel Photo

How Does a Courtyard Wedding Work?

So the wedding day has arrived, and you’re ready to say, “I do!” Now, you may be wondering what that looks like. You’ll arrive at the courthouse at the time of your appointment with your marriage license and any other required documents, as well as any witnesses (if necessary). From there, you’ll exchange rings and vows, sign your license, receive your marriage certificate, and celebrate! Yes, you read that right. It really is that simple. 

How to Make a Courthouse Wedding Special

Because a courthouse wedding is such a short, simple celebration, it can be hard to figure out ways to make it even more special (because, let’s face it, it already is just by you promising forever to your significant other). However, there are a few things you can do to take things up a notch.

Bring a Bouquet of Your Favorite Flowers

Just because the wedding is smaller doesn’t mean you don’t deserve some beautiful wedding flowers. Because you don’t necessarily have other decor to worry about, you can create a bouquet that’s unquestionably yours. Include your favorite flowers, color palette, details (disco balls, anyone?), etc. 

Write Your Own Vows

We know that writing your own vows isn’t for everyone, but it’s a simple, free way to make your ceremony yours. What’s more special than writing your promises straight from your heart? Then, you can re-read them every year on your anniversary.

Include a Unity Ceremony

Traditional weddings aren’t the only places you can find a unity ceremony. Whether you do a sand pouring, light a candle, or a shot of your favorite liquor, a unity ceremony offers a chance to personalize your day and give you a potential keepsake to remember the day by.

Play your Favorite Songs 

One of the best parts about getting married at the courthouse is that you don’t necessarily have to worry about guest experience. You don’t have to stress out about making the perfect cocktails, having a specially curated playlist, or creating a menu everyone will enjoy. If you and your soon-to-be spouse have songs that are special to your relationship, play them during your ceremony–even if they’re a little quirky. There should be laughter on a wedding day, anyway.

Capture the Moments

At Junebug, we will always be advocates of hiring a wedding photographer–whether you elope or get married in front of 300+ guests. You’ll want to remember this day for years to come, and one of the easiest ways to do so is by looking back on photos. Because you’re saving money in other areas, this one is especially worth the splurge.

Host an After Party

Whether you decided to keep the ceremony between the two of you or you included friends and family, keep the party going with an after-party. This could look like dinner at your favorite restaurant, a karaoke sesh at a nearby bar, hitting a club for a night of dancing, or a bonfire.

Image by Jessi Lancaster

What to Wear to a Courthouse Wedding

Although more couples are going the untraditional route for attire at traditional weddings, we’re seeing it even more so at courthouse weddings. These weddings are often more casual, which typically leads to more relaxed attire. However, at the end of the day, what you wear should reflect your personal style. If you want to look and feel like you would at a big wedding, wear that white dress and veil or suit–even if you do feel overdressed. Not one to dress up? Opt for casual attire like a mini dress or button-down shirt and slacks. The possibilities are endless.

Recommended Reading: 30 Courthouse Wedding Dresses That Are Simple and Special

How Much Does a Courthouse Wedding Cost?

Courthouse wedding costs can vary depending on your location. However, on average, you can expect to pay about $120 for a relatively simple ceremony. In some cities (such as San Francisco and Santa Barbara), you can rent out space within the courthouse to allow you to have more guests and more time. This can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, depending on where you’re tying the knot. This may be worth looking into if you want more than ten guests.

How Long Does a Courthouse Wedding Take?

The duration of a courthouse wedding can vary, but the ceremony itself is usually brief, typically lasting 15-30 minutes. The entire wedding planning process–from applying for a marriage license to the ceremony–can take a few weeks to a few months, depending on your location and any waiting periods for the license.

Remember, a courthouse wedding can be just as meaningful and memorable as a traditional one. What matters most is your love and commitment to each other. Ready to tie the knot to the love of your life at your local courthouse? Still trying to decide what to wear? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered with these 30 wedding dresses that are simple yet special.

Image by Flora Gibson

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