Can you have a more formal wedding after a civil marriage? Absolutely!

There are a number of reasons this set-up might be desirable or even necessary. For example, the Covid-19 pandemic made it impossible for many couples to enjoy a formal wedding. For some couples, getting legally married first helps to solve immigration issues. Some couples keep a breathtaking elopement secret before choosing to have a more public ceremony.

In some cases? This is just a low-stress way to get a marriage done, allowing you to get all the legal concerns out of the way before focusing on celebrating with your family, friends, and in some cases, faith.

Whatever your reasons, you can rest assured. You won’t be alone if you choose to manage your wedding this way. Here’s what you need to do to make your formal wedding amazing.

Choose an Officiant

Since your formal officiant does not have to be licensed by any government body, you’re free to ask anyone you want. While many couples will reach out to their local priest or minister, others might wish to have a friend or family member do it. This can be a more intimate and personal option, especially if neither the bride nor the groom are particularly religious.

A bonus? If you don’t choose a member of any clergy and don’t choose a paid officiant you can save a little money. A nice perk, given the cost of the average wedding.

Decide Who to Invite

You might be tempted to invite everyone you’ve ever met to the formal wedding ceremony, especially after the smaller courthouse ceremony. Yet it’s important to be very thoughtful about who you issue invitations to.

You and your partner should start by making a preliminary list. You can even put some guardrails around that list. You might have a ton of Facebook friends, but if you haven’t seen them in person since 2010 and barely talk beyond “liking” one another’s posts, you might not need to invite them to your wedding. You don’t even have to invite everyone who is related to you! offers five pertinent questions to ask:

  • Have I met this person before?
  • Did I attend their wedding?
  • When was the last time I saw them?
  • Do I spend birthdays and holidays with them?
  • Are they a positive influence in my life?

Keep in mind that increasing the size of the guest list increases the amount of planning time you’ll need. Finding a venue for 10 people is relatively easy and inexpensive. When the list jumps to 25 it gets more challenging. By the time you reach 75+ guests you’re going to need months just to find a place to hold the wedding and reception.

Be aware that it’s getting less and less acceptable to invite people to your wedding just to invite them. A lot of people see it as a stressful inconvenience, especially if you don’t really spend a lot of time with them. An invitation may be seen as a bid for a gift, rather than as a genuine desire to celebrate a milestone.

Remember, you can always send marriage announcements out to people you haven’t heard from in awhile.

Keep in mind the bride and groom should have roughly the same number of guests, if possible.

Prioritize the Ceremony

If you’re not going to prioritize making the ceremony something special you might as well skip it and go straight to a reception. Put as much thought into the flowers, venue, music, and vows as you would have put into it had this been your first and only wedding.

If you are having a non-religious ceremony you have a lot of freedom to create a ceremony that resonates for you and your spouse.

If you are having a religious ceremony, why not take the time to indulge in all of the traditions of your faith? Go all out. You’re tying the knot in the eyes of your deity and in the eyes of your community here. You’re not just ticking off a box here.

PS, even if you didn’t wear formal wedding attire for your courthouse wedding, you should consider getting some for your formal wedding. A workday suit is fine for getting married in front of a judge, but you’ll want to rent full, formal clothes for your big shared wedding.

Celebrate Making it Official

Make your reception an epic party to remember! For many, the reception is usually the most memorable part of the wedding.

You might even consider adding a few fun extra options that your guests won’t expect. A few enterprising couples have even hired fire dancers and acrobats to spruce up their wedding.

Research all your options. The possibilities are endless.

Don’t forget the honeymoon!

Some people have their honeymoons after their court ceremony, then turn their attention towards planning the formal ceremony.

Yet if you haven’t planned your honeymoon yet, you should make room in your budget to do just that. Taking a honeymoon can reduce your chances of divorce by at least 41%. Your trip isn’t just a way to continue the celebration. It’s a way to help you and your partner finish forging a lifelong bond.

Keep Your Eye on the Purpose

Planning a formal wedding and reception is a lot more stressful than planning a courthouse ceremony. You might be tempted to give up when you find yourself melting down into a puddle of stress. There may be setbacks, challenges, and intense moments along the way. Venues fall through, miscommunications result in issues, and the flowers you hoped to get may be out of season. 

Stop, take a deep breath, and remember why you’re doing this. It’s not so you can get married: you’ve already done that. It’s so you can include the people you love in one of the biggest milestones in your life. If you focus outward: on making the ceremony and reception beautiful for them, then the process can be less stressful and more enjoyable.