Is a Civil Ceremony Right For You?

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Not all weddings take place in a church with a member of the clergy officiating.

You might choose to be married in a civil ceremony by someone with ties to the legal community such as a judge of various divisions of the local courts, justice of the peace, a retired judge or justice.

If a civil ceremony is something you’re considering, there are a few things you might want to know.

Why choose a civil ceremony?

A basic civil ceremony will not contain elements from any religion. This may be perfect for the couple who feels uncomfortable with the strict rules of a religious ceremony or is not at all religious. Perhaps the bride and groom come from different faiths, so rather than choosing one religion over the other, they may decide to go with a civil ceremony.

Civil ceremonies are often performed in a judge’s chambers at your local courthouse. If you simply aren’t interested in a fancy traditional wedding, or if you must stay within a very strict budget, this can be a huge money-saver. Compare the price tag of a wedding with all the trimmings to a civil ceremony, which can often be taken care of with as little as $100.

Another option for a civil ceremony would be to hire an officiant who is willing to travel to your location. With this option, you are no longer limited to a short service at the courthouse without family or friends. You can choose your location and have as many guests as you desire. Most churches require couples to be married by a member of that church’s ministerial staff which rules out the possibility of bringing a judge to perform your ceremony. But many other wedding venues don’t provide a specific person to officiate, which means you’re free to bring whomever you choose. As you look around for a wedding site, be sure to ask if they require you to use someone on staff or if you are free to bring your own officiant.

A civil ceremony is also a great option when you don’t want to deal with months and months of planning a wedding. It’s possible to be much more spontaneous, especially if you plan on a quick courthouse exchange of vows.

The simplicity of the civil ceremony appeals to many engaged couples. Usually, a courthouse ceremony will take just a few minutes to perform since many of the traditional and religious elements have been left out, such as the processional, giving the bride away, prayers and blessings, musical solos and the recessional. Of course, if your civil ceremony will take place elsewhere and you would like to incorporate special readings or any other more traditional elements of a wedding service, discuss your wishes with your officiant prior to your ceremony.

In most areas, the bride and groom will need to have two witnesses over age 18 there for the service and ready to sign the marriage certificate. Be sure to ask about this requirement when you call to get information and requirements where you live. Some localities might provide witnesses in the form of members of the judge’s staff, but it’s always a good idea to be sure of this before you arrive.

Don’t shy away from a celebration just because you chose a civil ceremony rather than the traditional. Many couples plan a reception, whether casual or formal, at some time following their wedding.