How to plan a civil wedding ceremony

Sure, we love the pomp and circumstance – and the flowers, cakes, and dresses – that come with a traditional wedding, but when it comes to getting married legally, none of that is actually required. (And, let’s be honest, it’s never necessary if you don’t want that to be the case!) To officially say “yes” all it takes is a recognized officiant, a marriage license, and a few witnesses (and even these aren’t required) in all states). And, while we often think of a civil ceremony as going to city hall, just the two of you, a civil ceremony can really take place anywhere and be anything you want.

What is a civil ceremony?

A civil ceremony is a legal, non-religious marriage ceremony presided over by a government official.

As with wedding planning, it’s important to remember that your wedding can be whatever you want it to be, whether it’s a trip to town hall, a totally intimate celebration. with only your families or a huge task to do. And, while the civil ceremony will likely be smaller, that doesn’t mean it has to be any smaller. “Whether you only have two members of your family or your closest family, give it as much priority as a bigger marriage,” said Julie Bunkley and Courtney Wolf of Invision Events. “You’ll want the moments to be documented, so hire a photographer, even for a short time, have your hair and makeup done and consider having a bouquet.”

Meet the expert

Julie Bunkley is the owner and Creative Director of Invision Events, a Birmingham, Alabama-based wedding planning studio. Courtney Wolf is the company’s executive wedding planner.

So whether you’re saving for the big party, wanting to get married before a major change in your life, or just can’t wait to get married, here’s what you need to know if you’re having a civil ceremony now and a big reception over. late.

Michela Buttignol / Brides


Do your research

It’s not as easy as waltzing around town hall with your IDs. Each state has its own set of rules when it comes to applying for a marriage license, so be sure to check first. Typically, a civil ceremony is subject to the same requirements as a religious ceremony with respect to fees (such as venue and marriage license) and restrictions (age, etc.). So, keep an eye out for fees, required documentation, and waiting periods. For example, Thursdays and Fridays tend to be more popular days (i.e. longer queues) if you think of City Hall. Also, be sure to check whether you will need a cookie (or two) or not.

Be sure to check your state’s requirements, as rules about cookies and documentation vary.

Choose a celebrant

Although, again, the requirements vary from state to state and, in some cases, county to county, a civil ceremony is usually presided over by a legal official. This person can be a justice of the peace, a county or court clerk, a notary, a judge or a magistrate. If you go to town hall, this person will be provided.

Decide who to invite

Having a civil ceremony doesn’t mean you have to ignore the guest list altogether, and you might want to bring a few selected people with you. And that’s where these witnesses come in. Some states require two witnesses over the age of 18, while others do not require any witnesses. Sure, you can take strangers out of the waiting room, but why not give a few people you love the honor of signing your marriage license?

Consider inviting your parents and siblings for an intimate celebration, or add a few close friends. While you will have a wedding later to celebrate your union, it is the moment, so invite your loved ones to be a part of it. As for How? ‘Or’ What you should invite guests, Bunkley and Wolf suggest being as personal as possible, especially given the small guest list. “If you have the time to send a personal invitation note, this is the best way,” they say. “Regardless of the size, being as intentional and personal as possible makes it more memorable and special.” That said, if you’re pressed for time, you can still make a phone call or send an e-invitation.

Prioritize the ceremony

Wolf and Bunkley say, “The most memorable weddings are always the most personal.” So how can you accomplish this? “Give your civil ceremony a touch with your own personality through your outfits (whether new or from your current wardrobe), the way you advertise to guests or on social media, and how it’s documented. Celebrate your love! ”

At this point: Consider bringing a photographer to capture the special moments of the day, as the civil ceremony is part of your wedding history. “Civil ceremonies can be incredibly special and powerful because of their privacy,” says Valorie Darling, a Los Angeles-based photographer. “I usually hear couples leave thinking it will be procedural and are surprised at how touching it has turned out, suddenly reciting vows to each other without anyone else. Capturing this is something you will come back to return to. – the purity of this moment together. ”

Additionally, Darling says that hiring a photographer for the civil ceremony has an added benefit: “It’s also an opportunity for your photographer to form a relationship so that on the big day you are closer and more relaxed, which means your photographer can capture the wedding day with ease and you can experience it with pleasure. ”

Meet the expert

Valorie Darling is a photographer based in Los Angeles. She has captured nearly 150 weddings as a wedding photographer.

Celebrate the formalization

You are married! Mark the occasion in a way that feels special to you, whether it’s a champagne toast, a family dinner at home, or a late lunch after a midday ceremony. If you have witnesses or guests, be sure to include them in the fun, and then take some time to enjoy the moment together. We also love the idea of ​​booking a room in a nice hotel for the night or going out of town for the weekend for an early mini-moon.

Continue the celebration

Yes, you will already be legally married by the time of your wedding, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be equally special, especially since the rules no longer apply! Some ideas we like?

  • Include all the traditions you like and ignore the ones you don’t.
  • Hold a short and sweet ceremony to symbolize your union.
  • Walk down the aisle with your dad, or you and your partner can walk in together.
  • Exchange wishes you’ve personalized and include a read or two that speaks to you.

Since this part doesn’t need to be legally binding (been there, done that), ask who you would like to serve as an officiant – no online ordination is required. And don’t worry about explaining the situation to your guests – they get together to celebrate the both of you, and your love story is still your love story, so there will be definitively be tears of joy, whether your celebrant is registered or not.

Then, once you’ve had your ‘first kiss’, keep celebrating however you want! All you have to do is decide which birthday you are going to celebrate …


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