How to Make Your Courthouse Wedding or Civil Ceremony Special

newlyweds happy after courthouse wedding or civil ceremony
bride: Francis Lola | photo: @sukiweddings

Ready to do this?! If you’re thinking about getting married at the courthouse, CONGRATS! Contrary to popular opinion, a courthouse wedding isn’t just a methodological process of making it official. It’s a meaningful (and beautiful) way to get married. Of course, you’re likely to have a few questions — like what is a civil ceremony? And what to wear to a courthouse wedding? We hear you.

Photographer Madysen Tompkins of Mady Noel Photo knows that getting married at the courthouse sometimes wrongly gets a bad rap. “Whether it be a last resort, a financial constraint, or because of family dynamics, sometimes society treats a courthouse wedding as a point of gossip.” But those in the wedding industry know that’s couldn’t be more off base. “Courthouse weddings can be romantic and personal, low-key and chill, or glam AF. Point is, the venue doesn’t matter. A courthouse wedding or elopement day can be just as personalized and beautiful as any other wedding day.”

Before we get started, let’s jump into that first question:

What is a civil ceremony?

A civil ceremony is a legal wedding officiated by a government official. It is simply a partnership that is non-religious and purely legal, often comprised of a statement of vows and signing of documents. But a civil ceremony is anything but boring. Read on to find out how even the simplest ceremony structure might just surprise you greatly in the end.

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8 Tips to Plan a Memorable Courthouse Wedding

bride and groom sitting on the steps at city hall
photog + designer: Mady Noel Photo | florals: Mood Fleuriste | wedding dress: Odylyne the Ceremony | hair + makeup: Reign Beauty | groom attire: The Black Tux

Let’s get right to it! From choosing the date to choosing an after-party, here’s how to plan a courthouse wedding that’s truly something special.

Contact the Courthouse and Gather Information

kissing on the steps of the Santa Barbara Courthouse post civil ceremony
photo: Ali Beck Photography from this Western Boho-Chic Elopement at the Santa Barbara Courthouse

First, you’ll need to contact the city hall where you want to get married. One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to get married in the city hall closest to you! You can choose one for its location that’s significant to you, or because it’s especially beautiful (lookin’ at you, Santa Barbara). Different states and even counties will have different rules and regulations, so be sure to contact the exact courthouse where you’d like the wedding to take place. You’ll want to get information about necessary documents you’ll need, see if a witness must be present, determine your officiant, find out if you can recite your own vows, and how many guests you can bring. Plus, you’ll need to set the date!

Make a Guest List and Send Invitations

bride and groom with headband in historic arched building
photo: Morgan Hydinger from this Whimsical Sophia Coppola-Inspired Wedding

You’ve got the details sorted! Now, it’s time to make your guest list and determine who you’d like to invite to the ceremony. A courthouse wedding is generally small — aka, personal. You may want to only invite close family members or friends and then extend an invitation to others for the after-party. Or perhaps you’re planning to wed in a civil ceremony and throw a big wedding later down the line. Either way, this is the moment where your union is made official, so consider who you’d like to be by your side for the momentous moment.

Plan Your Wedding Flowers

bride and groom with retro bridal bouquet and heart bridal sunglasses
photog + designer: Mady Noel Photo | florals: Mood Fleuriste | wedding dress: Odylyne the Ceremony | hair + makeup: Reign Beauty | groom attire: The Black Tux

When it comes to getting married at the courthouse, there aren’t many things to plan regarding design details. That’s why flowers are SUPER important if you want to add some personalization to the day. (But let’s be honest — if you’re planning a courthouse wedding or civil ceremony, that’s already a huge personalization to who you are as a couple right there! Don’t let the lack of a massive wedding design get you down!)

Aside from your bouquets and corsages, consider bringing corsages for your guests, as well. It’s a sweet and simple way to make guests feel special.

What to Wear to a Courthouse Wedding

bridal suits and what to wear to a courthouse wedding
photo: Zoë Morley | bridal suit: Karen Willis Holmes

Beyond flowers, the most impactful way to make your day personal is in your outfits! Not sure what to wear to a courthouse wedding? We adore a short wedding dress for the occasion. Maybe you opt for a colorful dress, put flowers in your hair, or rock a rad bridal suit. For the men, add unique accessories to your suit or try an unexpected color. You can go as traditional, fashionable, or as casual as you like. Just make it true to you and your choices will speak for themselves.

Even if you’re planning a bigger wedding or a party later down the line, it’s worth it to wear something that feels special to you. This is The Moment, after all!

Favorite Accessories for a Fashionable Civil Ceremony

Hire a Photographer

bride in two piece wedding dress and bridal glasses
photo: Brooke Taelor | dress: Flora Bridal

Once you know what to wear to a courthouse wedding, you MUST get a photographer to capture it! You’ll want all the special memories captured for years to come. Research photographers who are familiar with the city hall location you’ve chosen or if you have your eye on a certain photographer, just ask! Chances are if you’re getting married at the courthouse, they’ll be down to make it happen.

Prepare for a Special Ceremony

bride wearing cute short civil ceremony wedding dress
bride: Francis Lola | photo: @sukiweddings

You may walk into your civil ceremony expecting a by-the-book approach — but be prepared for a ceremony that’s more meaningful than ever. Reciting your vows and declaring your love for one another is a profound experience, no matter your surroundings.

Include Your Dog in Your Courthouse Wedding

photo: Sarah Vendramini Photography | flowers: The Poppy Pod

Looking to bring your pup to your courthouse wedding? You can’t bring your dog into any of the courthouses, but you can bring your puppy on the courthouse stairs and have your ceremony there! Such a great way to include your dog in your wedding day.

Host a Courthouse Wedding After Party

bride and groom on roller skates at city hall
photo: Caroline Opacic Photography more: Roll With It! A Disco-Inspired Elopement Inspiration on Roller Skates!

Finally, what’s the most fun way you two can think of to celebrate? DO THAT! It could be brunch at a local café, a luxury picnic on the beach, or a fancy dinner at your favorite restaurant. Maybe it’s grabbing drinks at a hotel bar or singing karaoke! As long as it’s fun and personal, the options are wide open.

newlyweds exciting the courthouse what to wear to a courthouse wedding short dress
photog + designer: Mady Noel Photo | florals: Mood Fleuriste | wedding dress: Odylyne the Ceremony | hair + makeup: Reign Beauty | groom attire: The Black Tux
photo: Sarah Vendramini Photography | flowers: The Poppy Pod

All in all, getting married at the courthouse can still be full of the most memorable moments. Cheers to making yours!

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