Courthouse Wedding Checklist

If a big reception with all the bells and whistles isn’t your speed, consider this courthouse wedding checklist for a simple yet sweet ceremony.

By The Zola Team

Courthouse Wedding Checklist
Photo by Zola

The First Look ✨

  • If you're planning a courthouse wedding, your to-do list should include determining expectations for the day, finding a place and time, getting your documents in order, and making the day (and the days after) special.
  • Perform a thorough search of the courthouses in your area. Depending on your guest list, some venues will be too big or too small—you’re looking for the one that’s just right.
  • Don’t forget to check your state’s laws when it comes to marriage certificate fees, ceremony fees, and waiting periods.
  • A few personal touches, like special wedding outfits, bouquets, and vows written by you and your partner, can make this wedding memorable, too.

For some couples, a big reception with bells and whistles doesn’t feel like a true celebration of their love. So instead, they ditch the wedding vendor checklist and extravagant week of the wedding checklist to solidify their union in front of the only people who truly matter: each other (and a few government employees).

If this sweet and simple ceremony sounds right to you, read on for the ultimate courthouse wedding checklist:

Do I Need a Checklist for a Courthouse Wedding?

You’re probably thinking something along the lines of I thought courthouse weddings were easy, so do I need a checklist?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, courthouse weddings can be easier to plan than more extravagant ceremonies, but easy doesn’t mean effortless. No matter the size and scope of your wedding ceremony, there are some steps you simply can’t avoid.

The bottom line: All weddings need a checklist, even if you’re planning a no-nonsense courthouse ceremony.

After the Engagement: Deciding on a Courthouse Ceremony

The excitement of getting engaged is something to cherish, but it can also stand in the way of planning. Even at this early stage, you’ll need to get on the same page as your fiance and check a few crucial tasks off your courthouse wedding checklist.

A wedding—and a marriage, for that matter—is a partnership. This means decisions should be made together, including the type of wedding ceremony you’re planning.

When discussing the possibility of a courthouse wedding, talk through the factors on this checklist:

  • Timing: The beauty of courthouse weddings is that they’re faster than traditional venue ceremonies. If you’re looking to make your union official as soon as possible, then a courthouse wedding is the way to go. Talk to your partner about the timeline you’re considering, and make sure you’re on the same page when it comes to a date.

  • The guest list: Courthouse weddings are small. Make sure you and your partner agree about keeping the guest list short. Discuss who you want to present if anyone at all. Most states require one or two witnesses to marry two individuals, which means you’ll have to decide whether these witnesses are friends, family, or strictly professional (like a photographer or city hall employee).

  • How you feel: Opting for a courthouse wedding is a big decision. While some couples couldn’t be happier about their quickie wedding, others may leave with feelings of regret. Before committing to a city hall wedding, make sure both of you are fully confident in your choice.

6 to 8 Months Prior: Setting a Date

Courthouse weddings may be quick, but they’re not instant. Even a civil ceremony requires some organization, so let’s break down the steps for your city hall ceremony checklist.

#1 Pick a Courthouse

Not all courthouses are created equal. The size and location of the facility you choose can make a difference in how the day plays out. While larger city halls may be busier, they also offer beautiful architecture for your photos.

Smaller courthouses, on the other hand, maybe better for a more intimate marriage ceremony. These facilities also tend to have shorter lines, and you might get a more personal experience that isn’t as rushed. Talk through these factors when deciding on a location:

  • Proximity: Are you looking to get married close to home, or would you rather make a day trip out of it with an overnight stay in a nearby bed and breakfast? The location of your courthouse will influence your schedule for the day.

  • Guests: Each courthouse places a unique limit on guests. If you want a few friends and family to join you on your special day, this is something to consider when selecting a location.

#2 Adhere to Local and State Laws

Every state has different laws regarding marriage. Before you choose a location, it’s important to brush up on the local legislature. Make sure you fully understand every item on this checklist and prepare for them in advance:

  • Marriage Certificate Fees: Marriage certificate fees can range from $10 to $115, depending on the area you live in. Prepare for these costs by researching local laws, especially if you’re getting married in a state you don’t live in. Some places (like Delaware) hike up their fee for out-of-state applicants.

  • Ceremony Fee: Some states also charge an additional ceremony fee for city hall marriages, usually around $35.

  • Premarital Counseling: In certain areas of the United States, couples applying for their marriage licenses are required to complete premarital counseling classes. In some cases, completion of these classes can significantly reduce the cost of your marriage certificate fee.

  • Waiting Period: After you obtain your marriage license, you may be subject to a waiting period (somewhere between 24 and 72 hours). There will also be a grace period from the time you receive your marriage certificate until you actually get married. If you wait longer than your local grace period, your marriage license could expire.

#3 Finding an Available Location

Courthouses are government buildings, and sometimes they’re busy. This can be frustrating, especially for couples looking to elope, but it’s something you’ll need to deal with.

Since city halls have set hours, your courthouse wedding will probably take place on a weekday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. While these hours aren’t ideal for a romantic celebration, couples who organize their event ahead of time will be better off scheduling-wise.

The last thing you want is to show up at the courthouse—fully dressed and ready to be wed—only to find out they’re booked for the day.

5 Months Prior: Planning for What Comes After

Once your love is fully recognized by the law, you’ll be able to celebrate—don’t forget to plan what that celebration will look like in advance. Plus, after you tie the knot, you’ll still have to tie up a few loose ends.

While some couples like to keep their post-wedding plans simple, others may choose to go all out. Wherever your personal taste lies, follow this quick checklist for celebrating the beginning of your new life.

#1 Honeymoon

Some couples opt for a courthouse wedding to save money for the real celebration—the honeymoon.

The average price of a wedding in the United States is $33,900, and that’s not including honeymoon costs. Now think about how many hotel rooms, flights, and sightseeing activities you could get for that amount of money (keeping in mind the average honeymoon in the U.S. only costs $4,466).

To plan a honeymoon that lives up to your expectations, be sure to hit each item on this checklist:

  • Book flights (and consider splurging for a cabin upgrade)
  • Reserve romantic accommodations
  • Plan a few special activities in advance
  • Organize transportation to and from the airport, especially if you’re leaving right after your courthouse ceremony
  • Put someone in charge of the post-wedding cleanup, so that you don’t have to worry

#2 After Party

If you’re interested in a private courthouse ceremony, but still want to celebrate with friends and family, consider hosting a wedding after-party.

This celebration can take place at a restaurant, bar, or even in the comfort of your own home after the big day. (Your guests may even meet you outside the courthouse to kick the celebration off early.)

You can go big or small, but you’ll want to use this checklist as a guide either way:

  • Venue: You could rent out a location or just head to your favorite local bar, park, club, or someone’s backyard.

  • Food and Drinks: For something a little flashier, consider hiring a bartender to make signature cocktails and order a few platters of easy appetizers. Alternatively, your low-key bash might be best suited for a couple of pizzas, a case of beer, and nothing more.

  • Transportation: You don’t necessarily have to reserve transportation for everyone, but you should at least figure out how people (including yourself) will get from the courthouse to your secondary location.

  • Decor: You don’t need much in the way of decorations, but you might want to add a few simple touches of style and flair. That could mean balloons, flowers, sparklers, you name it.

#3 Send Thank You Cards

A courthouse wedding may help you save money on thank you cards, but that doesn’t mean you have to forgo them entirely. Some couples choose to order a handful of cards, just in case. These can be sent out to anyone involved in the ceremony, engagement, or post-wedding celebration. Recipients may include:

  • Your witnesses
  • Your family
  • Anyone who sent you gifts
  • Guests who attended your engagement party, wedding shower, or post-wedding celebration

While these won’t be mailed out until well after the wedding, you can always get a jump start and order them in advance. Zola lets you design and order five different samples to see in person before ordering the final product, so you can land on a truly magical design that captures the spirit of your special day.

Sending out these touching photos can help relatives and friends feel involved in the process, even if they weren’t able to see it in person.

3 Months Prior: Assembling Your Documents

Vows and kisses are meaningful, but they don’t make a marriage. For a ceremony that’s recognized under the law, it’s crucial to get all your documents together before heading to the courthouse.

This checklist includes everything couples need to obtain a marriage certificate and complete their civil ceremony.

#1 Photo ID

In order to apply for a marriage license, you’ll need to provide a valid form of photo ID for both parties involved. Examples of valid ID include:

  • Passport
  • Driver’s license
  • Government-issued ID

#2 Previous Marriage Documents

If you’re applying for a marriage license and you’ve been married before, you’ll be asked to show proof of your previous union’s end date. Usually, this means showing divorce documents or death certificates.

#3 Birth Certificate

To obtain a marriage license, both parties will be asked for their birth certificates. Fortunately, a certified copy of a birth certificate will suffice.

#4 Proof of Residence

In some states, couples must apply for a marriage license in their county of residence. This isn’t the case in every area of the United States (Las Vegas, for example, has a much more liberal policy), but you should still bring proof of state residence just in case. Luckily, a driver’s license will usually satisfy this requirement, so you can check off two boxes in one.

Certain counties allow out-of-state couples to obtain marriage licenses, but they may be required to complete an additional waiting period.

Day Of: Last-Minute Details

Now that you’ve filled out enough paperwork for a lifetime, you can put the technical stuff behind you and just enjoy yourselves. Today is all about you, your love, and a few little details. Check these final to-dos off your checklist before you head down to city hall for your special day.

#1 Choose Your Outfits

When it comes to courthouse wedding attire, you’ve got options:

  • Business Casual: For a humble ceremony, couples can opt for sophisticated, but comfortable outfits. This may mean a button-up shirt and some slacks, or a nice blouse with dress pants or a skirt.

  • Wedding Attire: Even with a courthouse wedding, some couples still go all out with their attire. If you like the idea of a quickie wedding, but don’t want to sacrifice your style, don’t be afraid to dress to the nines. We’re talking the big white dress, a freshly rented tuxedo... the whole nine yards.

  • Somewhere in Between: Many couples dress somewhere between an all-out formal wedding and just another day at the office—this might mean a white sundress or cocktail dress for the bride and black pants, a white shirt, and a black jacket for the groom, but without the full-length ball gowns and starchy tuxedos.

#2 Make It Personal

The courthouse doesn’t mean cookie-cutter. There are plenty of ways couples can add personal touches to their big day, even with the limitations of city hall. To make your ceremony a little more special, check out these ideas:

  • Bouquet: Brides can add their favorite flowers to a bouquet for a touch of tradition. Simply bring your bouquet with you and hold it throughout the ceremony—just don’t be surprised when there’s no one there to catch it. You could also hire a professional florist to create gorgeous bouquets and boutonnieres just for the two of you—Zola has a long list of pre-screened florists who specialize in every style.

  • Vows: Did you know that courthouses allow you to write your vows? This is a great way to make your city hall wedding unique, and personalized vows will add to the intimacy of the event. A courthouse wedding is all about the couple, so take advantage of this by writing your heartfelt vows to one another.

#3 Take Photos

Your wedding is a memory you’ll want to cherish—no matter where it takes place. Couples who opt for a courthouse wedding can use the money they saved to hire a professional photographer. Through Zola, you can find qualified local wedding photographers and videographers in your area, including budget-conscious options that fit the bill.

Splurging on this little luxury is a great way to document your special day. Whether you choose to dress up or keep it simple, the photos from your wedding will exude love no matter what.

Try having a fun little photo shoot on the steps of city hall to fully embrace your laidback wedding style. These photos can be hung up in your home or sent out to friends and family who couldn’t make it to the affair.

#4 Change Your Name

Not all married couples have the same last name, but some do. One way to celebrate your newly-minted nuptials is by heading down to the social security office and making this new chapter of your life official.

Changing your name after you get married is a little complicated, but newlyweds can take it to one-stop-shopstep by step with this quick and easy checklist:

  • Get Your Proof Together: Just when you thought the paperwork was over, think again. Before you can begin the name change process, you’ll need to make sure you have the right documents in hand. Obtain your original marriage license, along with a few copies, before you start your application.

  • Change Your Social Security Card: The next step will take place at your local social security office. From there, you’ll fill out a name change application. Completing this application requires proof of citizenship, a photo ID, your marriage certificate, and your current social security card.

  • Apply for a New Driver’s License: Your license needs to match your new name. After you hit up the social security office, you’ll have 24 hours to head over to your second exciting destination—the DMV. Applying for a new license will look almost identical to your social security application.

  • Spread the word: Once your name change is complete, you’ll need to notify your bank, credit card companies, employer, and any other official organizations.

Courthouse Weddings: The Bottom Line

The steps needed for a courthouse wedding are fairly simple, but planning ahead of time never hurts. No matter where or when you choose to get married, the most important thing to remember is this: It’s up to you! The guest list, attire, and date of your wedding are personal choices that make each ceremony special.

Completing Your Checklist is Easy with Zola

The only thing easier than a quick courthouse wedding? Using Zola.

Zola is your one-stop shop for all things wedding-related. Whether you’re hosting a giant reception or a humble gathering, we’ve got you covered. Zola has hundreds of unique designs for invitations, wedding programs, and thank you cards. Users can also take advantage of our gift registry service, our reputable vendor list, and our gorgeous (and free) wedding websites.

Stop stressing, and start planning your wedding the better way—with Zola.

Simplify Your Wedding Planning at Zola