Unexpected Perks of a City Hall Ceremony

Small courthouse weddings have little stress and big benefits

Unexpected Perks of a City Hall Ceremony
Photo by Beatriz Pérez Moya on Unsplash

When my future spouse and I were looking to get hitched, we knew what we wanted: a small, affordable, intimate ceremony with minimal hassle and maximum focus on the love that had bloomed between us rather than how "good" of a party we could throw for guests.

Neither of our families are involved enough in our lives to warrant invitations to our nuptials. As two early twenty-somethings, our friends are mostly either broke local college students or displaced halfway across the country.

Thus, we could count the number of people we would invite to our wedding on two hands, and pare it down to one hand if we only included those who could reasonably make it there.

As we began researching the various routes one can go down the aisle, we discovered that our best bet would be a courthouse wedding. I had never pictured myself getting married where one would pay traffic fines, but I figured I'd at least give it a chance.

Our courthouse didn't even require a witness, so the lack of friends and family in the area wouldn't be an issue. Also, the ceremony and license combined totaled less than $100. With our limited funds, the price tag proved more than a little tempting.

After tying the knot at our local magistrate's office, I can say I am so happy that we evaded the headache that comes with planning a big wedding and opted for a city hall ceremony, instead.

While fellow engaged friends freaked out about decor, themes, venues, guest lists, and more, my spouse and I relished a relatively simple step-by-step process with a few personal touches to make it our own special, sentimental day.

If you're neck-deep in wedding plans and considering calling the whole thing off, you're in good company. It's you (and your future spouse's) big fat love fest, you can call it off if you want to.

But you don't have to cancel the impending marriage — maybe these unexpected perks of a courthouse marriage will convince you to keep the wedding coming and convert it to a city hall ceremony.

Skipping out on a big traditional wedding means you can splurge on the things that matter most to you as a couple.

If you're not shelling out for an expensive venue, officiant fees, decorations, a sound system, and all the other potential must-haves to throw a grand party celebrating your love and commitment to each other, you can funnel those funds to plenty of other places. You could invest in high quality rings, a killer reception, professional photography, an extravagant honeymoon, or a solid foundation for married life together.

Or you can keep on saving for an elaborate dream wedding while having all the legal benefits to being officially espoused on paper. Whatever you choose to do with the spare money, it's a win-win.

Your special day truly is your special day. With a courthouse wedding, it's all about the two newlyweds.

No worries about that one self-centered relative trying to steal the show or soil the ceremony. With a city hall wedding, you can look back on one of the (hopefully) best days of your life with zero regrets on the guest list, the bridal party, the groomsmen, etc.

A bonus: Courthouses frequently have a limit as to the number of guests who can be present at a wedding, so if you have a long list of extended family and a small list of whom you actually want to invite to your ceremony, the preset policy can be a great way to avoid conflict between the freshly joined family members.

If anyone complains, you can throw your hands up and forfeit responsibility. "That's just the policy," you may shrug. "Don't take it up with me, take it up with the magistrate."

You can dress as laid back or luxurious as you want.

While this technically applies to any wedding, a courthouse wedding gives you a particular kind of freedom in terms of the formality of your ensembles. No one will judge you for wearing business casual attire or a billowing princess ballgown.

City hall wedding outfits run the gamut because city hall weddings have different meanings for different couples. For some, this ceremony is just a formality before they can afford their "real" celebration. For others, a city hall ceremony is the closest thing to an easy breezy elopement they could get. For others still, tying the knot at the local magistrate's office is a legal expression of a commitment that they have already carried out for many years.

Whatever a courthouse ceremony means to you, don't hesitate to dress accordingly. Whether you choose to don jeans and t-shirts or extravagantly deck out to the nines, you do you! As long as you feel comfortable and confident, that's all that matters.

If you are like my spouse and I, you'll be waiting among traffic court attendees and definitely be the best dressed couple there no matter what you wear.

No need to drag out — and stress out — the wedding planning process.

Depending on your state's laws and regulations, the window from obtaining a marriage license to reciting vows can be as short as a few business days. For those who want to avoid a long, agonizing wedding planning process, this can be a huge plus. Devoting a year of one's life to planning the perfect event can be fun, but it can also be frustrating.

If you prefer to skip the stress and cut to the point of a wedding--legally committing yourself to another person for better or for worse and officially merging your lives--a city hall ceremony might be an ideal solution.

You may be able to get married on (mostly) whatever day of the week works for you.

While you will still probably have to set up an appointment with an authorized official, the restrictions on the day and time that you can have your ceremony may not be as strict as other options.

My spouse and I got married on a Wednesday afternoon because that was their only guaranteed day off from work. They just started a new job with mixed shifts, so trying to call off on a weekend wasn't exactly practical or advisable.

Depending on the hours of operation for your local courthouse and the availability of officials, you may have less flexibility. Still, the weekday wedding worked to our benefit and may work out to yours, too.

No religious affiliation? No problem!

Trying to find an officiant who wasn't tied to a specific spirituality or church congregation in the rural northeastern U.S. was no easy feat for my nonbinary spouse-to-be and I.

For some people, this would be no biggie. As for us, we didn't want our same-sex union to incorporate religious motifs. We both believe in Something with a capital S, but we don't ascribe to one specific faith.

Even if we were religious, none of the religious establishments in our area would recognize a same sex marriage as a valid marriage.

Even the generic courthouse ceremony had some allusions to religion, so if you happen to be a person of faith, fear not, your faith can be a part of your ceremony!

Thankfully for my spouse and I, the script for the ceremony at a courthouse wedding could be modified to our liking. We simply requested a copy of the generic ceremony and edited it to match our values and ideologies. Then, we dropped it off before the scheduled ceremony with our contact info in case the magistrate had any questions.

While courthouse weddings may seem impersonal, there are plenty of opportunities to tailor a ceremony to suit your vision.

If you're heading to the courthouse to get married, there's absolutely need to give up on getting the wedding of your dreams. From clothes, hair, and makeup to the sweet words exchanged during the ceremony to plans for before, during, and after the wedding, there's plenty of room for creativity.

Even with a super scant budget, my spouse and I managed to make it a memorable day. We woke up early to cook a big breakfast together and enjoy each other's company; exchanged our own long, personal vows before the ceremony; incorporated our wedding colors into our outfits; took plenty of pictures with and of each other throughout the day; and followed our ceremony with a road trip to our favorite place to celebrate.

The day was fun, festive, and uniquely "us." The best part was spending it together, totally present, enjoying ourselves without having to worry about putting on a perfect wedding for guests.

Considering a courthouse wedding yet?

It can be scary to give up the dream that many of us have for an elaborate ceremony and reception straight out of a storybook. If you can't picture yourself heading to the city hall to get married because of your own deeply-rooted desires, then plan that grand, romantic wedding, that humble little ceremony in the chapel where your parents got hitched, and everything in between.

However, if you can't picture yourself heading to the city hall to get married because of other's expectations, that's a whole different story. I'd say ditch their opinions and follow your heart. They aren't the ones standing across from the love of their life and pledging their commitment to that person.

You can make your wedding look like whatever you want. What you want is subject to change as the planning process runs its course, and that's okay. Ultimately, you must choose what's right for you and your future spouse. Regardless of what road you end up taking, remember: It's your big day, your marriage, and your love that you are celebrating.

Whether you have a five minute city hall ceremony or a wedding that stretches on for several hours, this day will be over before you know it. And your life as lawfully wedded spouses will begin.

Even if you forget little details you had planned, don't forget to breathe and enjoy it as much as you can.

ceremony and reception
Maya Strong
Maya Strong
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Maya Strong

Intersectional feminist. Everyday activist. Out/proud enby queer. They/Them. For the rest of the story, read my words. Say hi at [email protected] 💜

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