What are the costs and legal requirements to get married at a courthouse? Every county and state has its own fees and legal requirements to get married. Some courthouses charge rather high fees, whereas others are much cheaper. Plan to spend at least $50 to $100 to legally get married at your local courthouse. This article explains the ins and outs of courthouse weddings in various counties and states.
Has the thought of a large or expensive wedding caused you and your partner to consider getting married at the courthouse? Are you planning a wedding but are unsure of what it takes to make it official at the courthouse? Planning a wedding can be exciting, but at times it can also be overwhelming and expensive. The average wedding in the United States costs around $34,000. In order to avoid debt or needless stress, a courthouse wedding may be a great option for the big day.
What do you need to know about a courthouse wedding?
Before considering a courthouse wedding ceremony, we need to understand just what a courthouse wedding is. Let’s dig a little bit deeper to understand exactly what this type of wedding is and if it’s right for you.
A civil ceremony
The key thing to know about a courthouse wedding is that it is a civil ceremony. It is a non-religious but legally recognized marriage ceremony that is performed by a government official or another authorized person.
Courthouse wedding logistics
Courthouse weddings are typically less elaborate and easier to plan than a regular wedding at a church or a fancy wedding venue. However, there are still many things to consider. Here are a few to get you started.
Whom to bring to a courthouse wedding
“Whom should I invite to the courthouse? Do I need to bring an officiant to the courthouse? How many guests will attend?”
Good questions. Some prefer to only invite their parents on their wedding day. Others prefer to invite a friend to their wedding or one other couple as their guests. Every courthouse has different policies, but most allow no more than 10–15 people.
In most states, it is a legal requirement to have at least two people witness the ceremony. In some ceremonies, vows are chosen to be said in front of a few close friends.
A secret wedding
In some ceremonies, however, not even a few close friends are invited. Some are opting for a secret wedding where they tell no one outside the couple about the ceremony. If you follow this route, who will be your witnesses? A new trend is to invite complete strangers to the ceremony.
Does this mean you can’t share vows or exchange rings? You can still exchange rings and vows, it just won’t be in front of people you are familiar with. Official documents are signed, and your marriage is now legal, without the hassle of all the extra planning.
Location Location Location
“Where is the local courthouse? Can I have a destination civil wedding?”
More good questions. Some prefer to get married at a courthouse in another state. Make sure to call the courthouse and find out the local requirements for the county and state you’re considering.
Call or go online to make an appointment. This can’t be emphasized enough. Some courthouses will not accept walk-ins, and others may have blackout times. For example, the Flagler County Clerk of Circuit Courts (in Florida) does not take appointments in the middle of the day between 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM.
Is an appointment necessary?
Just like with a traditional wedding, obtaining a marriage license for a civil wedding requires an appointment. Certain counties may allow for an appointment via zoom for a marriage license — Hillsborough County, Florida, for example.
What are the business hours?
To obtain a marriage application from city hall (or the appropriate county office), you need to make an appointment during the hall’s business hours. These hours will differ from one city or county to another. For example, in Oakland County, Michigan, the hours available are 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.
Another example is The Brevard County Clerk of Court’s office hours, which are 8 am–5 pm. Each county will be different. (This county is in Florida.)
How long is the ceremony?
One company in Fort Collins, Colorado, specializes in a wedding that lasts about five minutes. A typical ceremony could last anywhere from 10–20 minutes.
The ceremony can finish quickly, so it would be good to plan where you will go next. Some like to plan a dinner for the guests invited or even just head back home.
Who will officiate the wedding?
Depending on where you get married, this can vary. Let’s review the possibilities if you choose not to have your marriage officiated by an ordained minister.
Justice of the peace
In most jurisdictions, you will be able to have a justice of the peace officiate.
[A justice of the peace is] a local magistrate empowered chiefly to administer summary justice in minor cases, to commit for trial, and to administer oaths and perform marriages.” — Merriam-Webster
There are only three states that allow public notaries to officiate a wedding. Maine, South Carolina, and Florida allow certified notaries to perform a marriage for individuals with a valid marriage license. A notary public can charge up to $30 in addition to other fees agreed to in advance. All costs should be provided in writing ahead of time.
A judge may also officiate your civil wedding. Civil weddings are presided over by a legal official whereas a religious ceremony is normally performed by a minister.
This is not an exhaustive list of possibilities. In some places, a mayor may perform a wedding. In at least one city, members of a certain society may perform them. And, of course, we’ve all heard about marriages performed by ship captains.
Is there a waiting period?
What if you decided you wanted to run off and get married today? Is this notion feasible? Not always. Some states make you wait before acquiring a license. A prime example is King County in Washington state. The law there requires a 3-day waiting period before you can use it.
In certain counties, such as Florida’s Duval County, you can have this waiting period waived by attending a premarital course and providing proof you completed the course when applying for a license.
If you’re not having your marriage performed by a civil official authorized by law to officiate, make sure your officiant has the required ordination credentials to perform a legal marriage. Most local governments require proof of ordination before the ceremony begins.
Online ordination process
What if you want a family member or a friend to officiate your wedding? How can one of them become an ordained minister? Many online platforms are legally able to make you an ordained minister. You simply have to fill out an application and, in most cases, pay a small fee.
Planning ahead: a home for your new family
On the life path chosen by most, purchasing a home is the next step after marriage. Raising a family requires space and settled living arrangements, after all. That, at least, is a widespread preference. If you share that preference, now is not too soon to start thinking about financing a home purchase.
What is the cost of getting a marriage license (by state)?
The cost of getting a marriage license can vary from free (no license necessary) in Alabama to $115 in Minnesota. Minnesotans can save themselves $75 if they complete a 12-hour premarital education course, which proves yet again that education proves (approximately $3.08/hour in this case). Here is a rough estimate of the cost of getting a marriage license by state.
|State||Marriage License Fee|
|California||Varies by county|
|Georgia||Varies by county|
|Illinois||Varies by county|
|Louisiana||Varies by parish|
|Maryland||Varies by county|
|Massachusetts||Varies by city or town|
|Mississippi||Varies by county|
|Missouri||Varies by county|
|Nevada||Varies by county|
|New York||$35 in New York City; $40 elsewhere|
|Ohio||Varies by county|
|Pennsylvania||Varies by county|
|South Carolina||Varies by county|
|Tennessee||Varies by county|
|Texas||Varies by county|
|Utah||Varies by county|
|Washington||Varies by county|
|Wisconsin||Varies by county|
You will need certified copies of both birth certificates, your social security numbers, and a black pen to sign with. Also, if you have been divorced, you will need to bring divorce papers as proof. Some counties may require additional documents.
Don’t forget to check your local requirements while wedding planning. In Duval County, Florida, for example, anyone who is not a citizen of the U.S. may provide either a Social Security number or an alien registration number. If neither has been issued, another form of identification may be required.
What is the difference between a marriage license and a marriage certificate?
A marriage license is a legal document you have to get before your ceremony. Consider it an application to get married.
After you are married at the courthouse, the officiant returns it to the county. Then, you will receive the marriage certificate.
Before you apply for a marriage license, you need to know your state’s legal requirements and city’s or county’s requirements. Some may require a state ID or require a blood test. For example, Ithaca, New York, requires both parties to be present to obtain a marriage license. Also, each person needs two forms of identification, typically a driver’s license and a certified copy of a birth certificate. If you have a passport available, this will also suffice.
Remember that you will need your social security numbers and a black pen. Also recall that, if you have been divorced, you will need to bring divorce papers as proof. Some counties may require additional documents. Don’t forget to check your local requirements while wedding planning.
Online marriage license application
Applying for a marriage license online will differ per state, county, or city. In Broward County, Florida, for example, you can expedite the marriage license application process by filling out, printing, and taking the form to any Broward County marriage license office.
Another example is Chesterfield County, Virginia. Chesterfield County allows you to apply online. If you feel you have made an error on your application, do not submit another application. Inform the county clerk when you pick up your license.
Does the marriage license expire?
Put simply, yes. Most marriage licenses have an expiration date. It can range anywhere from 30 days to 90 days. Schedule a date for your ceremony before your license expires. A courthouse wedding gives you ample opportunity to plan a small wedding without your license expiring.
Costs of a courthouse wedding
The average courthouse wedding, just for the application, will cost from $30–150. The court may also charge an additional $20 to $45 for a civil ceremony. Plan to spend at least $50 to $100 to legally get married at your local courthouse. Research the city you live in ahead of time and check the cost.
Sample costs from Florida and Kentucky
So, are courthouse weddings costly? A civil ceremony will differ per county and state. As of late July 2022:
- Marriage licenses in the State of Florida are $93.50.
- Meanwhile, the cost of a courthouse wedding in Jefferson County, Kentucky, is $50. Payment is required by check, money order, cash, or credit card.
Don’t forget to research the city or county you live in, since these costs do vary from one jurisdiction to another.
Saving money with a prep course
If you want to save on expenses, you can complete a licensed premarital preparation course in most states. For instance, in Knoxville, Tennessee, the cost for a marriage without the course would be $97.50. By completing the premarital preparation course, you could get a deduction of $60, for a net cost of $37.50.
Are there additional fees?
You can request a copy of your marriage license either by mail on in person. Depending on the state, additional copies may cost anywhere from $10 to $30 each. Traditional weddings today can be very costly. A bride could easily go into debt by not counting the cost. Getting married at the courthouse could save you significantly, avoiding the “hidden fees” (unnoticed expenses) of some traditional weddings.
The big day
Is a courthouse wedding the correct choice for you? Courthouse weddings can bring an intimacy to the wedding that a more traditional wedding may not be able to. If you decide you want to legally marry and make your partner your spouse, but you don’t need the traditional frills or a large number of guests, then consider a courthouse wedding.
How to have a courthouse wedding without complications
A courthouse wedding could save you both money and time (most ceremonies will only last around 20 minutes). Here are a few tips to help you pull it off without a hitch.
- Choose a location and a wedding date for your ceremony.
- Save money by planning yourself instead of hiring a wedding planner.
- Invite a few close friends as guests and start your new journey with your life partner.
How do you get married at a local courthouse? First things first, make an appointment with your local city hall (or appropriate county office).
What documents are needed to get married? Check with your local city hall (or appropriate county office). Most commonly, you will need at least two forms of identification, such as a certified birth certificate and social security number.
Do you need witnesses to get married? Not always, but in some states, at least two witnesses are required.
Can you get a marriage license application online? Check with your local government website. San Diego, California, for example, recommends submitting a license in either Spanish or English online.
- The cost to get married at a courthouse will vary per state and county. On average, a courthouse ceremony will cost $30–150.
- Courthouse weddings can bring intimacy to your wedding while saving you from starting your new life together in debt.
- Legal requirements differ per county and state.
- If you are basing your decision strictly on cost, a civil wedding could be just right for your situation.
More reading to enhance your marriage planning
Perhaps you are still considering a more traditional wedding ceremony. Or maybe you just want to think a little more about the costs and available options. Well, SuperMoney can help with that. Here are three articles for your consideration:
- How Much Does the Average Wedding Cost?: The average cost cited in the article is actually just one estimate. Learn about another estimate and see what contributes to the expense of weddings.
- How to Save Money on a Wedding: 5 Simple Money-Saving Tips: What soon-to-be-married couple couldn’t benefit from from tips for saving money?
- The Ultimate Guide on How to Plan Your Wedding Finances Effectively: As the title says, this is the ultimate guide to this topic. Get your wedding finances in order like a pro.
View Article Sources
- 5 Minute Weddings Home Page — 5 Minute Weddings
- Hours of Operation — Brevard County Clerk of the Court
- Definitions of justice of the peace and officiant — Merriam-Webster
- Florida Marriage Guide — StateofFlorida.com
Though StateofFlorida.com is an independent site with Florida information, not the official State of Florida website, we judge it a useful resource.
- Marriage License — Duval County Clerk of the Court
- Marriage License — Knox County Clerk
- Marriage License — Oakland County of Michigan
- Marriage License Department — Hillsborough County Clerk of Court & Comptroller
- Marriage License Frequently Asked Questions — Jefferson County Clerk’s Office
- Marriage License Frequently Asked Questions — Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller
- Marriage Licenses — Broward County Clerk of the Courts
- Marriage Licenses — City Clerk, City of Ithica
- Marriage Licenses — Flagler County Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller
- Marriage licensing — King County Recorder’s Office
- Marriage officiant — Wikipedia
Though this usage contradicts Merriam-Webster’s, it seems to match the popular trend.
- Online Marriage License Application — Chesterfield County
- Performing Marriage Ceremonies: A Guide… — Florida Executive Office of the Governor
- The Knot 2019 Real Weddings Study — The Knot