There are so many different reasons why you might want to get married at a courthouse or civic building: Some couples love the idea of eloping or need their legal marriage paperwork completed ahead of a destination wedding; others would rather spend money the a home or vacation or else simply want to solidify their partnerships without planning a large party. Whatever your reason, know that it doesn’t get much shorter, sweeter, or official than a courthouse wedding.
How much does it cost to get married at a courthouse? The short answer is that it varies by state, county, and municipal jurisdiction. Your fees may be waved entirely for being active duty military or first responders, or you could pay anywhere from $30—as is the case for ceremonies performed. by a deputy clerk in Florida's Miami-Dade County—to $88—which is what you pay for an indoor or outdoor ceremony at the courthouse in California's San Diego County—or more. In general, you can expect basic fees for a courthouse wedding to top out at around $120; there are additional fees associated with things like securing certain spaces where guests are allowed or bringing in your own officiant.
Ultimately, courthouse weddings tend to be very affordable, and they're a great option for couples to consider. If you're thinking about tying the knot in a designated space that falls under local government jurisdiction, we're sharing everything you need to know.
Meet the Expert
Sara Bauleke is a wedding planner and designer based in Washington, D.C. Her company, Bella Notte, specializes in weddings of all sizes that are stylish and sophisticated, but also creative, quirky, edgy, and fun.
What to Know About Getting Married at a Courthouse
Most often presided over by a civil officiant—such as a judge, city clerk, or justice of the peace—civil wedding ceremonies are typically straightforward, nonreligious events that often conclude in a matter of minutes; at most courthouses, you and your new spouse will be welcome to linger to take photographs and enjoy congratulations from your witnesses and guests (assuming guests are allowed at the location you've selected).
It's important to note that appointments are often required, but that’s not always the case. In Dallas County, Texas, for example, walk-ins with no prior ceremony appointment scheduled are allowed to be married—at a cost of $100—under two conditions: The judge must have availability and the couple should have already obtained a valid marriage license. To avoid being turned away, it's best to do your research beforehand and determine if an appointment will be necessary.
The costs associated with courthouse weddings vary by location, but usually there's an option to do a simple courthouse wedding for a very nominal fee—if any. Sara Bauleke, a wedding planner and designer based in Washington, D.C, notes that some cities offer more elaborate ceremony options, too. "In San Francisco, for example, you can book a one-hour ceremony for $1,000, which allows for weddings with up to 100 guests on the Mayor's Balcony, overlooking the grandeur of City Hall.”
What many couples don't realize is that some courthouses will allow you to bring in your own officiant—religious or otherwise. “Should you want to bring your own officiant, there’s typically just a fee to process a celebrant application,” says Bauleke. Before you book an officiant, it's important to confirm whether or not they'll be allowed to perform a ceremony at your chosen courthouse.
How to Find Information About Appointments and Free for Courthouse Weddings
You’re going to have to do a little bit of research to determine how much it costs to get married at the courthouse of your choosing. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to check the official government website for the municipality in which the courthouse is located for the most up-to-date information regarding fees and scheduling appointments.
“City and government websites are the best places to get information on marriage licenses and courthouse ceremonies,” affirms Bauleke. “Information is also typically available in person at the courthouse. However, finding information online will ensure that couples can be properly prepared for the wedding.”
If you’re not finding all the information you need about fees and scheduling an appointment for your courthouse wedding ceremony online, call the local clerk’s office directly. As one example, Minnesota’s Hennepin County, which covers the Minneapolis metropolitan area, offers few details online besides phone numbers for the judges’ offices that preside over weddings. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy by simply calling the office directly, and they'll be able to tell you more about fees and availability.
While there are a lot of websites out there with helpful information about courthouse weddings, nothing’s as official as going to the source. Make sure you find the local government website for marriage and wedding fees and policies—they will typically have URLs that end in .org, .gov, or .us
What to Bring to the Courthouse on Your Wedding Day
Just like any other couple, you'll need to obtain your marriage license ahead of the wedding day, though the timing will vary based on local rules and requirements. In order to legally tie the knot on the big day, make sure you arrive at the courthouse with everything you need.
- A valid, unexpired marriage license that was issued within the same state and county of your wedding.
- A government-issued photo ID for each applicant, such as a driver’s license, state identification card, or passport.
- One or two witnesses with valid photo IDs. It's important to note that the number of witnesses required will depend on local guidelines. In some cases, civil witnesses can be provided for an additional, nominal charge. Be sure to inquire and confirm in advance.
Depending on guest allowances for your ceremony, your wedding photographer might need to serve as your designated witness. At the Office of the City Clerk in New York City, for example, couples tying the knot are currently not allowed to bring any guests beyond their one witness.
How to Find a Courthouse Wedding Venue
Between the short wait time, the intimacy of your vows, and the low cost associated with getting married at a courthouse, it's easy to see why this type of wedding ceremony appeals to so many couples. What's more, there's no rule that says you have to get married at you own local courthouse—ultimately, you can choose one in your hometown or a destination across the country so long as you have a valid marriage license.
If you're thinking about having a courthouse wedding, don't be afraid to explore your options. Lexi Cannon, senior sales manager at The Treasury on the Plaza, a wedding venue in St. Augustine, Florida, always wanted a civil ceremony, but didn't know where she'd tie the knot. Ultimately, she and her now-husband chose San Francisco City Hall. Her top tips for finding the best venue for you? Do your research, figure out your ideal timeline, and book the earliest appointment of the day.
In terms of research, Cannon spent a lot of time looking at other couples' courthouse wedding photos. “Photos are your best friend when you’re trying to get a feel for the space, especially since touring them is not really feasible beforehand,” she explains.
Your timeline will impact where you get married. Research how far in advance you need to apply for a marriage license in your preferred location—if it's far from home and your marriage license needs to be obtained weeks in advance, that might not be a feasible option. Once you know where and when you want to tie the knot, lock in that appointment. And, according to Cannon, the earliest appointment of the day is highly desirable. “Our photographer recommended that we book the earliest time slot possible for our marriage appointment, which was 8:30 a.m. This was the best advice," she shares. "City Hall was nearly empty, which made taking photos so much easier. We also weren't rushed at all during our appointment time, and we had a much more personal experience with our officiant as we weren't at a peak time in the day.”