How To Plan a Courthouse Wedding in the United States

In a Nutshell

Traditional wedding ceremonies can be expensive and stressful to plan. A welcome alternative for some couples is the courthouse wedding. A courthouse wedding is sometimes also called a civil wedding, a civil union, or a civil ceremony. Courthouse weddings in the United States are recognized as valid marriages for marriage green card applications. This article explains how to plan a courthouse wedding in six simple steps.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Updated October 19, 2022

What Is a Courthouse Wedding?

A courthouse wedding is a non-religious marriage ceremony that has a legal officer presiding over it. It usually takes place in a courthouse or city hall. In the United States, a courthouse wedding grants you a marriage certificate that the U.S. government recognizes as valid when you’re applying for a marriage green card.

How To Plan a Courthouse Wedding

One of the reasons courthouse weddings are favored by some couples is how straightforward they are to plan. You don’t need a wedding planner to organize your courthouse wedding - you can plan it by yourself. In six simple steps, you’ll be married to your spouse.

Step 1: Decide Your Location

Your first step will be to decide where you want to get married. Many people choose to get married in the city where they live. You could also choose to get married someplace else that holds sentimental value for you or your spouse. But you’ll need to do your research before picking a location.

Some states require you to apply for your marriage license in the city where you intend to live once you’re married. You can find out whether this is the case for the location you’ve decided on by checking with your local city or county clerk’s office.

Step 2: Look Into Marriage License Requirements

You can’t get married without first having a marriage license. Once you’ve decided on the location, you’ll have to look into that location’s marriage license requirements. In some counties, you’ll have to wait 30-90 days after getting your marriage license before you can get married. Other counties may not require waiting periods and you may be able to get married on the same day that you pick up your marriage license.

Also, marriage licenses in different places in the United States have expiry dates. You should keep this in mind so you can make plans to get one with an expiry date that’s later than your wedding date.

Step 3: Apply for the Marriage License

When you’re clear on the requirements for getting a marriage license, it’s time to apply for one. Different cities have different marriage license application requirements. But you and your spouse will generally need to present these documents when you apply:

  • A valid government-issued photo ID like a passport, driver’s license, or certificate of naturalization;

  • Divorce papers if either you or your spouse were previously married; and

  • Payment for the marriage license fees.

Check your local city or county clerk’s office to see if they require any other documents

Step 4: Gather the Necessary Paperwork

The next step on your courthouse wedding checklist is gathering all the necessary paperwork for your wedding day. Make sure to have your valid marriage license, payment for the license if you haven’t already paid, and forms of government-issued identification for you and your spouse. You’ll have to take these documents with you to the county courthouse where your wedding will take place.

You’ll also need to have witnesses for your ceremony. A witness must be over 18 years of age and must be present at the ceremony. Some cities require just one witness and others require two.

Step 5: Schedule Your Wedding Date and Prepare for It

When you have your paperwork and witnesses organized, it’s time to schedule your wedding date. Some courthouses may allow walk-ins during business hours, while others will require you to schedule a date ahead of time. When choosing a date, you should keep in mind any waiting period that you have for your marriage license, as well as your marriage license’s expiry date if any. As soon as you pick a date, you can plan your ceremony.

The fact that it’s not a traditional wedding shouldn’t mean it’s not an intimate ceremony. Your wedding is what you make of it - it will be as fun as you want it to be! Add as many personal touches as you want. Think about outfits - you can go as casual or traditional as you like. You should also think about getting your ceremony photographed and inviting loved ones to celebrate with you.

Step 6: Attend Your Wedding and Celebrate Your Union!

The next and final step is your wedding day! This is what all your planning has led up to. Make every effort to be present in the moment. Civil marriage ceremonies usually only take about 20 minutes. At the ceremony, you and your spouse will sign your marriage certificate, which is the official legal documentation of your marriage.