Wedding Planning Guide

what is a city hall wedding?
all your questions answered

If the idea of a large, traditional wedding feels daunting, or if you’re looking for a way to celebrate your love more personally, consider the city hall wedding. As proven by Carrie Bradshaw when she *spoiler alert* finally gets hitched to Mr. Big, city hall weddings aren’t all business and no style, and more and more couples are tying the knot with the county clerk. Whether you want to dress the occasion up or down, this guide includes everything you need to know for your city hall wedding.

A city hall or courthouse wedding is generally a smaller, less traditional ceremony option because there are limits to how many people you can invite, and you typically won’t be able to decorate or change the space you’re in. It’s a great option if your goal is to tie the knot in a civil ceremony that’s intimate, special, and fuss-free, and is also a good option for brides and grooms looking to elope or host a micro wedding. Read on for our tips on how to make your city hall wedding beautiful, memorable, and exactly as you’ve envisioned it.

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Newlyweds at San Francisco City Hall

Image source: Pinterest

City Hall Weddings 101

So what is a city hall wedding, exactly, and does it actually involve saying “I do” in a judge’s chambers? In reality, weddings are generally handled at the county level rather than the city level, which means unless you arrange a special, private ceremony — which is totally possible in many cities — it probably won’t actually take place in your town’s city hall. There are some notable exceptions, like in the city of San Francisco, but do your research before you fall in love with a location.

Typically, municipalities perform wedding ceremonies within probate court in the courthouse, which is a separate arm or building from city hall. However, you may be able to hold your ceremony in the city clerk’s office (this is a popular route in large cities) or in a smaller district court or municipal court in your area.

To figure out where your municipality performs marriage ceremonies, visit your county’s website and research marriage licenses or reach out to the county marriage license bureau where you live.

NYC Winter City Hall Wedding

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How Much Do City Hall Weddings Cost?

Though it varies from place to place, the standard courthouse or city hall wedding cost is somewhere between $20 and $50. That’s simply the fee for the ceremony itself and usually doesn’t involve the cost of the marriage license, which traditionally costs somewhere between $40 and $100. From there, you’ll have to factor in things like your dress or suit, flowers, and reception costs if you want to have a small celebration after the ceremony.

Intimate Wedding on Courthouse Steps

Image source: Pinterest

How Do You Get Married at the Courthouse?

How does a courthouse wedding work, logistically-speaking? There are a few steps you’ll need to follow:

  • Get a Marriage License: First things first, you will need to get your marriage license. You’ll typically have to apply for and obtain your marriage license with your county before you schedule your ceremony, although some jurisdictions let you schedule your ceremony at the same time as you schedule your license appointment. Check with your county to determine what you need to bring to this appointment, as it varies from place to place, but know that you’ll likely need at least two forms of a government-issued ID. Note that most places require you to appear in person for your marriage license.
  • Schedule Your Wedding Ceremony: Often, while you’re at your county’s marriage license bureau completing the application process and receiving your license, you’ll be able to schedule your courthouse wedding and pay the fee (unless you were able to schedule it and pay beforehand). Typically, the courthouse offers designated days and windows of times where they perform wedding ceremonies, so you may have a couple of choices for when to get married. Note that most jurisdictions do not perform weddings on weekends, so keep that in mind. Many counties require that your marriage ceremony be performed within a certain number of days after you receive your marriage license. This can be important if you are planning to invite guests from out of town who need to make travel arrangements, so be sure to try and give them as much notice as possible. Having a tough time finalizing who you should invite, we have a great article on creating your guest list.
Newlywed Couple with Marriage License

Image source: Pinterest

  • Ask the Important Questions: So many things about public wedding ceremonies depend on the jurisdiction and regulations of your city, so make sure you’ve researched the below questions before scheduling your city hall wedding:
    • How many people are allowed to attend the ceremony?
    • Will we be walking down an aisle?
    • Where in the courthouse will the ceremony be held? Is it mostly private?
    • Is there a place to get ready or touch up?
    • Are there any good places to take pictures either before or after the ceremony?
    • Do you offer a reception area on-site for cake or refreshments after the ceremony?
    • Can we include our own written vows in the ceremony or special readings at all?
    • Are we permitted to have either live or pre-recorded music for the ceremony?
Bride and Groom just married

Image source: Pinterest

  • Determine Who’s Invited: Your jurisdiction will probably have a limit on how many guests can attend a courthouse wedding. It is most often somewhere between 10 or 15 guests. Given this small number and the potential difficulties in scheduling, you’ll want to reach out to your potential guests in advance of confirming your date to determine general availability and whether they’ll be likely to join in the celebration. If you’re hoping to make your city hall wedding a surprise, no sweat! Just be aware it may be more difficult for some special invitees to make it.
  • Enjoy The Big Day: This last part is easy! Make any preparations you need to, whether it’s sending out invitations (here’s our guide to invitation etiquette to help), writing your vows, picking out something to wear (more on that below), or ordering a corsage and boutonniere, and show up to your appointment with your closest family and friends.
Couple getting married at San Diego Courthouse

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What Do You Wear to a City Hall Wedding?

What to wear to a courthouse wedding: It’s a question as old as the courthouse wedding itself. The truth is that there is no hard-and-fast rule here, and you can go as classic or nontraditional as you please with your wardrobe. Just note that, traditionally speaking, all courthouse matters lend themselves to slightly dressy attire — no jeans or sneakers, for example. Most women opt for a “little white dress” or white jumpsuit or pantsuit, and most men opt for a jacket and slacks (tie optional). This is an area of bridal fashion that has gained significant traction over the past year, and you can see there are a variety of stunning looks that would rival that of a traditional wedding day.

All this in mind, ultra-formal attire like tuxes and ballgowns may be too much or look out of place at city hall or in the courthouse, but, if you have the confidence or want to overdress for kicks, there is nobody stopping you. For the men, you may want to review our guide on wedding suit tips!

Wedding guests should follow your lead, but because a courthouse wedding can mean a variety of dress codes, be sure to let them know how you will be dressed so they can feel comfortable.

Bridal jumpsuit with train

Image source: Pinterest

How Do You Celebrate Your City Hall Wedding?

First off, before you leave the ceremony site, be sure to capture some photos of the event. We suggest consulting or hiring a local photographer to help you find the perfect location to shoot, whether it’s at the courthouse or a nearby park or restaurant. You can choose to either share these photos on social media, print and keep them for your memories, or you can showcase them in a wedding announcement to share the good news with family and friends.

After the ceremony, many couples choose to host a small dinner or other reception at a local restaurant to celebrate the occasion, while some couples opt to delay a day-of event and celebrate with a larger group at a later date. Nonetheless, renting a private room and filling it with decorations to celebrate the new couple or heading to your favorite bar to enjoy a signature drink or glass of champagne can be the perfect end to the perfect day.

Doing it Your Way

At the end of the day, your city hall wedding should be about you and your partner, so tailor it to your vision and enjoy every moment, exactly as you wish.

Reception after City Hall Wedding

Image source: Pinterest

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