In the latest installment of BRIDES's spotlight on all-things City Hall wedding ceremonies, we give you some visual cues alongside practical tips about how to make the most of your courthouse ceremony, from the most photo-worthy city halls across the country to dresses designed with elopement in mind. Stay tuned for more City Hall-centric content, focusing on what you need to know about the people, places, and everything in between.
Do you fantasize about ditching the traditional wedding plans and getting hitched at city hall? Perhaps you'd prefer to fast-forward the engagement period and start your married life adventures together ASAP. It could be that exchanging vows in an intimate, low-key setting appeals more to you than broadcasting your affection in front of 150 guests, some of whom you might not even know that well. TBH, maybe you want to sock away the funds you would have spent on a blowout bash for the honeymoon of your dreams or a down payment on that house you've been heart-eyeing on Zillow. Or, you might be enthusiastically shaking your head "yes" to all of the above, in which case—we gotchu.
Whatever the reason for opting for City Hall, it's still just as important to make it special. Here, wedding pros share their insights on how to prep for and plan an unforgettable courthouse ceremony.
Choose a City Hall Wisely
Pick a place that has special significance to your relationship, whether it's where you met and fell in love or currently live. "You're not limited to just your local government building," says Erin Borges from Erin Borges Designs LLC. "You can travel to another destination and make it the first stop on a honeymoon getaway or part of a fun-filled family vacation. San Francisco is one example of a city hall that's worth the trip. With a gold-capped roof and white columns, it truly is a beautiful sight to see!" Popular city hall locations can book up three to four months ahead, so you'll need to find out how far in advance you need to secure your spot. "It's also important to note that some city halls don't make appointments for marriages, so it's on a first-come, first-served basis," says Kevin Dennis from Fantasy Sound Event Services. "If that's the case, be sure to get there early to avoid crowds."
Research the Requirements for Getting a Marriage License
You can't tie the knot until you get your license first—figuring out all of the logistics ahead of time is crucial. It's a common misconception that you can decide to make it official and hightail it to city hall that afternoon. "Some states have a waiting period so you may not be able to get married the same day that you pick it up," says Carla Friday from Details Made Simple. "There is also an expiration time that the license is good for, so try to get it closer to your wedding date." If you're getting married in another country, then you might be able to waive the waiting period and get it once you arrive in town. If not, then have a legal ceremony stateside before jetting off to your final destination, just to cover your bases.
To apply for your license, you'll need a state-issued ID or driver's license, certified copies of both birth certificates, your social security numbers, and divorce papers (if either party has been divorced). Make sure you sign with a black pen or the city will send your license back! Some city halls only accept credit card or money orders, so check to see what acceptable forms of payment are.
Capture the Event on Film
If there's one thing that you should invest in, it's hiring a talented photographer to document your wedding day. There's no better way to have mementos that you can look back on and cherish for decades to come. Ideally, you want someone who has shot at that city hall before and is familiar with the surrounding areas to scope out beautiful photo ops.
Invite Your Closest Family Members or Friends to Witness Your Commitment
One huge benefit of a no-fuss ceremony is that you don't need to ascribe to the politics associated with a typical wedding guest list and can pare it down to the chosen few who really mean the world to you. Ask your city hall how many guests they will allow you to bring since it varies by location. "Consider designating a maid of honor and a best man as opposed to simply having witnesses," says Kim Sayatovic from Belladeux Event Design. If you prefer to tie the knot just the two of you, then your photographer can serve as a witness. Have a cherished friend or relative who can't make it? Consider live-streaming the proceedings so they can tune in.
Wear an Outfit That'll Make You Feel Like a Million Bucks
"Have fun with fashion and wear a wedding dress, pantsuit, or tuxedo," Sayatovic says. "After all, eloping doesn't mean that you can't dress the part!" A LWD is always a chic choice, and some designers, like French-based brand Laure de Sagazan, have even devoted entire collections to civil ceremonies. Or you could shop for a short white bridesmaid dress or cocktail frock, which may be cheaper than one labeled specifically for brides. Inject a bold dose of color with a vibrant floor-length gown or rock a cool-but-comfy jumpsuit—in court, there are no rules! Just make sure you arrive early at city hall and fully dressed for the day's activities since there aren't rooms for you to change into your ensemble.
Add Personal Touches
Although you can't typically recite your own vows at a city hall ceremony, you can still incorporate some bridal traditions that reinforce the significance of the day. "For example, you can carry a bouquet, give a toast at the events following the ceremony, book a nice hotel for the night and splurge on some spa services, and plan an announcement in the local paper announcing your nuptials," Friday says.
Throw a Fun-Filled After-Party
Unlike a traditional wedding, you get to spend much more quality time with each guest and your newly minted spouse—the sky's the limit when it comes to commemorating the momentous occasion. Just keep in mind that most city hall weddings take place on weekday mornings, so your restaurant options may be limited if you plan to eat directly thereafter. "You'll definitely want to plan a post-ceremony celebration of some sort," says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert and author. "Even if you think it's no big deal, it is. You can keep it tiny and intimate by having champagne in a hotel lounge or go all out with a reception at a restaurant, the local zoo or museum, or someone's home."
Creative activities include a bowling alley, amusement park, or boat ride. "We even had a couple once who brought all their guests to a rock concert as the after-dinner entertainment!" says Tara Fay from Xena Productions. At the same time, don't feel guilty if you and your partner just want to get away together and honor your marriage. Whatever you decide, keep the festivities true to your personal interests or personality as a couple.