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Getting Hitched: How to Get Married at the Courthouse

Updated on July 14, 2015

There are like, a million reasons to get married in a courthouse. Maybe you or your future spouse is shy. Maybe you can’t afford a big wedding or you just like to do things simply. Or maybe you're madly in love and can’t wait another day to be together.

Whatever your reason, eloping to the courthouse is no longer filled with the taboo that it was two decades ago. Instead, eloping embodies thriftiness as well as the romantic ideal of marrying for love, not the spotlight. These days there are a lot of ways to make a courthouse wedding charming, classy, and totally memorable.

Getting Started: The Steps to Get to the Courthouse Steps

Before you delve into the details of getting courthouse-hitched, you should know a couple of things. Here's a basic outline of the process:

  1. Gather you and your spouse-to-be's driver's licenses or State ID’s, birth certificates, and social security numbers to have on hand.
  2. Find the phone number to your local circuit court (this is where you apply for the marriage license). (You can Google this! Yay, Google!)
  3. Get information (either by calling or looking online) from the circuit court on how to apply for a marriage license and what you need. Then, apply for it!
  4. Find the phone number for your local courthouse. (Google to the rescue again!)
  5. Call or get information from the courthouse on the process and requirements for getting married (more on this below). Make a date and a reservation (if needed).
  6. Make sure you have everything (and everyone) you need, and then get hitched!

Applying for The Marriage License

In most states, applying for a marriage license is pretty simple. First, you'll need to call your local circuit court and find out what the requirements are for a marriage license application. Finding the number is easy—just Google "Circuit county court phone number [your city here]." A lot of this information is available online as well, so try our friend Google and it may not be necessary to call.

In nearly every state you'll both need a valid driver’s license or state ID, an original birth certificate (not a copy), and cash to pay the application fee.

Once you've applied, you'll be given a day to come back and pick the license up.

Here's a handy list of questions to ask when you call the circuit court:

  • What is the application fee and how should we pay for it?

  • What documentation should we bring with us?

  • Do we both need to be present to apply?

  • Do you require a blood test or premarital counseling? (In most states these are both outdated practices but if you're in Connecticut, Indiana, Mississippi, or Montana, a blood test may be required.

  • What is the wait after we apply? (In most states there is a mandatory wait after applying for the marriage license. In Michigan for instance, you must wait three business days after the application is received to actually get married.)

  • When does the application expire? (in most states your marriage application will expire after 30 days and you will have to apply for a new one if you don't get married within that period.)

What to Find Out About Your Marriage Licenses

Age requirement
How old do we need to be?
Issuance time
When will we actually get the license?
Blood test
Do we need one?
Who has to be there to apply?
Other marriages
What kind of proof do we need that we're not married anymore?
License validity
How long is it good for?
Wait time
How long do we have to wait to get married after we get the license?

Questions to Ask When You Call the Courthouse

The documents you need to bring and the rules you must abide by vary from state to state, and sometimes even county to county, so it's important to call your local courthouse before the big day to figure out the exact requirements. Like the above, sometimes this information is available online and calling might not be necessary.

By the way, this is not the same as calling the circuit court, which is the governing body—the courthouse is the specific place you'll be getting married. Just FYI!

Here are some questions to ask when you call:

  • What forms of identification do we need to bring?

  • Is there a fee we'll need to pay when we get there? How can we pay the fee?

  • Are children allowed?

  • Is flash photography or any photography allowed inside the courthouse?

  • How many guests, if any, may we bring?

  • Will the civil ceremony take place at a desk or in a court room?

  • Should we set up an appointment or can we come in any time? Is there an online reservation system?

  • Do we each need to bring a witness?

What to Know About the Courthouse Ceremony

When can we get married and how do we set up the appointment?
What do we need?
Marriage license, money, etc.
Who can come besides witnesses?
How many do we need?
Where exactly can the ceremony be performed?
What's allowed? Is video okay too?

Did You Lose a Document?

Don't worry! It's fairly easy to get a new copy of your birth certificate and social security card.

If you've lost your birth certificate you can recover this from the county you were born in, either online or in-person.

For a missing social security card, contact your local social security office and let them know your dilemma. They'll let you know what to bring in to replace the card.

Beyond the Paperwork: Celebrating a Courthouse Wedding

Letting Family and Friends Know

Some of your family and friends may ask, "Why, what's wrong?" in reply to your decision to get married at the courthouse, to which you can simply answer, "Nothing, we're just in love and don't want to worry about anything else."

The truth is, some people are just offended that you'd choose to get married without them.

The Guests

While you may decide to forego bringing your families along, don't assume you have to. Most courthouses allow a small showing of guests for the "ceremony."

Regardless of who's invited, you'll both probably need to bring a witness along to sign the final papers.


The Duds

Getting married in a courthouse doesn't mean you have to dress like you're going to jail (I'm sorry, I couldn't resist.)

You're getting married, so dress the part! Pull that dress you never thought you'd get the chance to wear from the back of the closet or check out online retailers like Modcloth, ShopRuche, Etsy, or even Forever21 for awesome deals on little white dresses. If you want that classic mother-daughter-dress shopping memory, shop your local boutiques for a dress you'll wear again this summer, or just go all out and head to the bridal shop.

As for guys, they'll be relieved that they don’t have to worry about coordinating colors with the bridesmaids and can instead focus on picking an outfit that makes them feel both suave and comfortable.


When you don't have to adorn eight other girls with flowers, the options for yourself suddenly get a lot more fun (and cheap!)

If it's summertime, make your way to a U-Pick flower farm with friends and put together a bouquet. Keep it in the fridge in a jar of water for up to a day and wrap it with floral tape and ribbon or lace on the morning of your big day. If you're looking for a little less work, hit up a florist for a mid-week special, or even grab a dozen fresh roses from your grocer and wrap 'em yourself.

Pictures, or It Didn't Happen

Most professional photographers (especially if it's the off-season, November-April) will offer a discount for courthouse weddings, since the time they have to invest is more like one hour, instead of eight. They would also be happy to squeeze in a mid-week shoot as most courthouse marriages take place during the week instead of on the weekend due to government business hours.

Even if the photographer isn't allowed in the courthouse you can set up a time to meet outside afterward for some quick professional shots, or plan to head out to a pretty location for a post-nuptials photo session.


To Party or Not to Party?

Just because you've chosen to tie the knot quietly, doesn't mean you can't enjoy a post-courthouse party! Spend a fraction of the money you've saved by not having a wedding on a once-in-a-lifetime super-expensive dinner for the two of you, or order a box of gourmet cupcakes to share with your families on the beach afterward.

Arriving at the Courthouse: The Checklist

Make sure you have these things on hand when you arrive at the courthouse!

  • Marriage license
  • Two buddies—a witness each for the bride and groom
  • Cash fee to pay the magistrate
  • Both of your driver's licenses' or state ID

What to Expect

When you arrive at the courthouse you'll have to go through a quick security checkpoint where you may be inspected with a hand-held metal detector (all part of the charm of the day!).

Next, you'll check in and let them know that you're there to get married.

You may have to wait either for your turn to come up, or for your pre-scheduled appointment.

After your turn comes up you'll either be directed to a small courtroom, an office, or a little cubicle, wherever the magistrate or judge is working.

The magistrate may say a few words and then have you, your spouse, and the witnesses sign the license in front of him. Altogether, this takes about one minute.

Voila! You're married!



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    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 4 years ago from Central Florida

      My second husband and I got married at the courthouse. We were planning a simple wedding in a park by the water. When friends started butting in and making it more gradiose than we wanted, we opted for the courthouse. It was just the two of us. I wore a skirt and top I'd picked up at a consignment shop. No flowers, no frills. We had no reception, rather headed to the beach for the weekend.

      Six years later we got divorced at the same courthouse!

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Hi, Kierstin,

      Great read. Wonderful story and presentation. Never read a story about getting hitched at the courthouse, but you nailed it.

      Voted up and away--keep up the great work.

      I cordially-invite you to read a couple of my hubs and then become one of my followers.

      I would love that.

      Kenneth Avery/ from northwest Alabama

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 2 years ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Bravewarrior, I loved my little courthouse wedding! If I could do it all over again though, I would have had a photographer, and a reception afterward. I do regret those two things. That being said, two years and a surprise baby later, we're still really glad for the way our wedding day played out. It was a quiet, lovely day and I don't think I got stressed once (except when the magistrate didn't show up--but the day was saved by a judge who was super excited to "marry" us!)

    • profile image

      Kayla 2 years ago

      Loved reading this! You're on the same page as me. This is exactly how my fiancé and I feel, one week from now we will be doing the same thing!

    • profile image

      luckyinlove 20 months ago

      Ur marrying the one u love not ur family or friends so follow ur heart & get married where ever u feel!! I did it too bad it didnt last but it was him not where we married!!

    • Jonas Rodrigo profile image

      Jonas Rodrigo 20 months ago

      Funny title and very informative content. Great job on this hub, Kierstin!

    • Emily Solorzano profile image

      Emily Solorzano 19 months ago from Chino, California

      Thanks so much for this! I've been toying with this idea for a while and think I finally decided it's what I want, and seeing all this really helps me form a better idea!

    • profile image

      Kenneth hatmaker 19 months ago

      Me and my girl are gettin marryed in a week and i cant wait

    • profile image

      ChinaSimmonds 15 months ago

      I am nervous about getting hitched at the courthouse, I do wish to hold a real ceremony in Vegas at one of their wedding chapels. But it will be just the two of us and I am not asking for any of my friends or family to be our witness, being that we would have to pay for their flight and food so wish us luck!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Jamine profile image

      Alicia Bell 14 months ago from Farmington, Maine

      I love this!! My husband and I were married at our Town Office and had a wonderful time- just the two of us. I think this article on the Courthouse wedding is absolutely wonderful and filled with great information.

    • sukhneet profile image

      Sukhneet Kaur Bhatti 12 months ago from India

      interesting hub

    • profile image

      JH 10 months ago

      when you get married in the courthouse do you have to say vows? or do they just sign and your done?

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 10 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey JH, we didn't say vows. The day we were set to get married the magistrate was conveniently gone (boo!) but they scrambled to find a judge and he was so excited to not be on trial that he wanted to make it special so he said a few words and ended it with "you may now kiss your bride!" but typically you'll just meet with the magistrate and sign the marriage license. No vows!

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 9 months ago from sunny Florida

      O my...courthouse wedding...I hope you loved it as much as it sounds like you might.

      I was married at the courthouse in Albany, GA, in 1972. (We had 9+ pretty good years together). Our marriage came off with no fanfare but it was perfect for us at the time.

      Angels are on the way to you this evening. ps

    • profile image

      roxanne 5 months ago

      What if your spouse doest have an id... Also.... warrant for his Arrest. ?? Plz help I'm so worried but really want to get married !!

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 3 months ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Hey Roxanne, I don't have clear answers for your situation but I hope that everything worked out. I would guess that he would need a valid ID (doesn't have to be a driver's license, it could most likely also be a State ID) and no warrants out. The courthouse is not somewhere that one can easily hide those sorts of circumstances.

      Best of luck.

    • profile image

      Gabrielle 8 weeks ago

      The only thing I don't like about having a courthouse wedding is my dad won't be able to walk me down the aisle. This is only thing that's keeping me from doing this.

    • Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

      Kierstin Gunsberg 8 weeks ago from Traverse City, Michigan

      Absolutely, Gabrielle. I can understand that. In many courthouses you actually can walk down a little aisle - like between the rows of chairs. Getting married at the courthouse is definitely not for everyone though, especially if you feel you'll regret some of the details of a bigger celebration.

    • profile image

      Gaurav 111 minutes ago

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