couple come down the steps after their courthouse wedding

The Courthouse Wedding: The In-Depth Guide

Nov 3, 2023
By Wedding Spot

When it comes to weddings, grand ballrooms and expansive outdoor venues often take center stage. However, in recent years, a charming alternative has been gaining popularity: the courthouse wedding. Courthouse weddings have been around for a long time, but with the increasing cost of a traditional wedding and the rising popularity of minimalism, they’ve really taken off recently.

While a courthouse wedding might seem simple, it offers a unique way to exchange vows and create lasting memories. In this guide, we'll explore the world of courthouse weddings, highlighting their differences from traditional ceremonies, important considerations, incorporating wedding traditions, and what comes after saying "I do."

The courthouse wedding: An intimate alternative

A courthouse wedding is a quaint and practical option for couples seeking a simpler, more budget-friendly celebration. Unlike larger, more traditional weddings, courthouse weddings are characterized by their small guest lists and minimalistic settings.

The ceremony is held within a—you guessed it—courthouse, city hall, or a similarly appropriate government building. While they may lack the grandeur of traditional weddings, courthouse ceremonies offer a unique charm that appeals to those who value intimacy and authenticity. Not to mention, many city halls and courthouses have stunning architecture, so you won’t be missing out on a beautiful backdrop!

4 key differences between courthouse weddings and traditional weddings

Pin, Insta URL
  1. Guest list. Courthouse weddings are typically attended by a handful of close family members and friends. If you want to keep it to just you and your partner, you’ll still need at least one witness (who may or may not also be your chosen photographer). This semi-private setting allows couples to focus on their inner circle. Traditional weddings, on the other hand, tend to include more than just one additional guest. 
  2. Venue. The ceremony is held in a government building, usually a courthouse or city hall. The setting is simple and understated, allowing the focus to be on the couple and their commitment. There will be procedures to follow once you enter the building, which means unlike a traditional wedding venue, a courthouse will handle all logistics or you.
  3. Attire. While some couples still opt for traditional wedding attire, courthouse weddings offer the flexibility to choose more casual or non-traditional outfits, reflecting the couple's personal style. We’ve seen everything from matching suits to casual, more semi-formal wear. You also likely won’t have to fuss with bridal party attire at your courthouse wedding.

    And don’t worry, there are tons of wedding dress styles to choose from that will work for a courthouse wedding

  4. Time and Cost. Courthouse weddings are often shorter in duration and more cost-effective than traditional weddings (think three or four figures instead of five). They are perfect for couples who prefer a low-stress, budget-friendly celebration or a shorter timeline. Traditional weddings may take a year or more to plan, but a courthouse wedding can be coordinated within a matter of weeks depending on appointment availability.

Things to think about before committing to a courthouse wedding

Pin, Insta URL
  • Understand the legal requirements. Before planning a courthouse wedding, ensure you understand the legal requirements in your jurisdiction. While some couples opt to do their courthouse weddings overseas, some countries may not acknowledge their nuptials when they return home. You’ll need to get the necessary marriage license and be aware of any waiting periods or documentation needed before planning. This holds true for international celebrations as well—because of local residency requirements and marriage license laws, many American couples opt for a legal wedding at home in the States with a later ceremonial wedding abroad in their chosen destination.
  • Schedule your best possible date and time in advance. Courthouse ceremonies are usually brief and need to be scheduled around 60 days in advance. Be sure to book a time that works for you, your guests, and your photographer. Note that the rules of courthouse weddings vary from county to county, which means you’ll have to read the fine print regarding availability and potentially fulfill other requirements, such as getting your marriage license approved ahead of time.
  • Communicate clearly with your guest list. While courthouse weddings are small, it's important to communicate clearly with your chosen guests so they can plan accordingly. We strongly recommend maintaining the same level of organization as you would a traditional wedding. That means having a central point of contact where everyone can get important information, obtaining RSVPs, and coordinating with your wedding vendors (photographers, dress alterations, florist, etc.).
  • Incorporate personal touches. Even in a simple setting, you can incorporate personal touches, like customized vows, a special song, or meaningful readings. You may even be able to bring some decorations as long as you check with the courthouse ahead of time. We suggest pieces that are personal and easy to carry such as flowers, a guest book, and framed photos. If your local courthouse doesn’t allow much in the way of decorations, remember that the courthouse only constitutes the ceremony, so you can always plan a reception later and decorate to your heart’s desire!

Have a little money leftover and want to make sure all of your ducks are in a row? You may be surprised to find out how much a wedding planner actually costs. They’re masters at keeping things planned and organized, and can help you keep track of all the important info you need, even for a simple courthouse wedding.

Incorporating wedding traditions into a courthouse wedding

Pin, Insta URL

Although courthouse weddings are inherently simpler, there are various ways to infuse them with traditional elements:

  1. Vows. Write and exchange personalized vows to express your love and commitment. This is a wonderful way to make the ceremony unique and heartfelt. If you hire a videographer they can capture this moment for you.
  2. Rings. Exchange rings as a symbol of your union. The exchange can be accompanied by a brief statement of your intentions separate from your vows. To personalize your courthouse wedding ceremony even further, consider giving each other rings that formerly belonged to loved ones or instilling other symbolic elements such as a special, non-diamond stone into your band.
  3. Readings and music. Incorporate readings or music that resonate with you as a couple. These can add emotional depth to the ceremony and make the event feel even more personal. Check to see how long your ceremony time before finalizing your selections.
  4. Witnesses. Many jurisdictions require witnesses to sign the marriage certificate. Invite close friends or family members to take on this important role and help bring in your decorations, get ready with you, or even take photos. Your witness should be someone who you both feel close to!

Life after saying "I do"

Pin, Insta URL

After the courthouse ceremony, there are several ways to celebrate with your loved ones and create more lasting memories.

  1. Small Reception. Host an intimate lunch or dinner at a local restaurant to share the joy with your close guests. A rooftop reception-only wedding event that included drinks at sunset followed by an elegant buffet dinner and a little dancing could be the perfect close to your special day. This might take a little more in the way of logistics than the ceremony, so we recommend planning this at least 6 months in advance. You don’t need to host it right after the ceremony but it might feel nice to have these two events closer together.

    Alternatively, you may even want to host a simple engagement party!

  2. Photography. Hire a photographer to capture the most precious moments of your courthouse wedding. These photos will become cherished mementos and are an absolute must for this type of ceremony! You may want video as well, so consider this when looking around. Note that some photographers specialize in courthouse wedding photography.

    Not sure how to begin your search? Enter the courthouse name into an Instagram search and see which photographers are tagged. The advantage of hiring one of these professionals is that they’ve been to the site at least once and have a good idea of where the best photo opportunities are as well as what to expect.

  3. Announcement. Share the news of your marriage with family and friends through social media or personalized announcements. Use Canva or another graphic design tool to create a digital poster you can share. You may even want to mail a formal announcement that you have officially tied the knot if you’re looking for a more traditional way to share your good news!
Couple with a bouquet seeing the sky

Find the dreamiest honeymoon destinations

Show me!
  1. Future celebrations. If you desire a larger celebration later, consider hosting a reception or party for extended family and friends. A full-on wedding reception is great but a small backyard BBQ can be just as lovely. It’s really all about you as a couple and what sounds ideal to you both!

Courthouse wedding FAQs

How do I schedule a courthouse wedding?

Contact your local courthouse to inquire about the scheduling process, as it may vary by location. Like in a traditional wedding, you'll usually need to obtain a marriage license beforehand.

It can vary from location to location, but you can often schedule marriage license appointments up to three weeks in advance, where it will be completed on the spot. If all of the marriage license appointments are taken, there may or may not be a waiting list available.

What are the requirements for a courthouse wedding?

Requirements vary by jurisdiction, but you generally need a valid marriage license, identification, and any necessary fees. If you’ve been married before you’ll need to bring proof of the dissolution of the marriage. Check with your local courthouse for specific requirements.

Is there a waiting period for a courthouse wedding?

Some places have a waiting period between obtaining the marriage license and the wedding ceremony. It can range from a few hours to a few days, so plan accordingly.

How much does a courthouse wedding cost?

Costs vary by location, but they are generally more affordable than traditional weddings. Expect to pay for the marriage license and possibly a ceremony fee. For example, in Los Angeles County, residents can expect to pay $35 for a civil ceremony, $91 for the marriage license, and whatever else you plan to wear or bring with you.

Do I need an officiant for a courthouse wedding?

In most cases, a judge or court clerk will officiate the ceremony, so you won't need an additional officiant. You can choose to bring your own officiator if the courthouse allows. If you go this route, make sure they bring a copy of their ordination certificate with them along with any other ID requested.

Is a courthouse wedding legally binding?

Yes, courthouse weddings are legally binding marriages as long as you meet all the legal requirements and obtain the necessary marriage license. You may need to fill out and pay for a brand-new marriage certificate if any of the information is wrong on the first one. Also, it’s important that there are no extra lines, smudges, or other markings on the certificate—we’ve heard a couple of horror stories of newlyweds needing to replace theirs over an authenticity dispute because of a rogue pen mark.

You’re ready to have the courthouse wedding of your dreams

Courthouse weddings are a charming and meaningful way to celebrate love and commitment. Their simplicity, intimacy, and budget-friendly nature make them an appealing option for couples who value a small affair over extravagance.

By understanding the key differences between courthouse and traditional weddings, considering important factors, incorporating personal touches, and planning for post-ceremony celebrations, couples can create a celebration that reflects their unique love story and creates lasting memories for years to come.

Up next, check out these helpful guides about the other types of wedding venues that you should know.

Featured Blog

Follow Us


Wedding Spot

Wedding Spot

The Wedding Spot blog is designed to help couples navigate every step of the wedding planning journey. From before the engagement to after you say “I do,” our goal is to give you the tips, ideas, and inspiration to prepare for your big day — and all that comes with it.