Courthouse weddings are a little more low-key than larger, more formal weddings. That doesn’t mean you don’t have to think about etiquette. If anything, you might need to think a little more about the etiquette of a civil wedding, as the territory is a little less “mapped” than it is for religious or larger wedding ceremonies.
Here’s what you need to know about keeping your courthouse wedding classy.
Announce Your Engagement the Right Way
Even if you’re planning on eloping, the way that you announce your engagement can have a big impact on your relationships. Don’t just hit people with a fresh marriage out of the blue, and avoid announcing your engagement on social media.
In general the order is: parents first, in person, immediate family members, and then friends.
If you have a “found family” and are estranged from your parents, then you can tell the people who treat you like family first.
Research Courthouse Requirements
Every courthouse is different, and you’d best make sure you understand exactly what the requirements are at yours. For one thing, if you miss a step or fail to follow policy the justice of the peace, judge, or other officiant might just refuse to see you or marry you. Those officers of the court are kind of known for being sticklers for the law (and the rules).
Besides, assuming you will be the exception to the rule is the very definition of poor etiquette. If your courthouse says you have to register online 8 weeks before the wedding, then do so. If it says you can bring exactly two witnesses, then that’s what you bring.
Create a Thoughtful Guest List
There’s a good chance that you’re having a courthouse wedding because you don’t want the big, expensive rigamarole that comes with a formal wedding. That means you’re keeping the guest list small almost by default, unless you’re holding a reception that’s significantly larger than the ceremony itself.
Either is fine, but unless you are literally inviting everyone you know and can afford to do so, it might be a good idea to sit down with your spouse and create a strategy for forming your guest list.
You also need a strategy for explaining your choices to those who don’t make the cut. If you know there might be hurt feelings over the wedding invitations, call those people in advance to let them know why you’re not going to be able to include them. Don’t overexplain, but taking this step can soothe a lot of ruffled feathers, especially if the answer is, “We’re inviting the best man, the matron of honor, and our immediate family members only.”
Eloping? You don’t owe anyone an explanation, but you might consider giving a few anyway, just in case there will be hurt feelings.
Plan Well in Advance
Invite etiquette continues to hold! You must send your invites 6 weeks in advance for a local wedding and up to 3 months in advance for a destination wedding.
You also need time to secure your marriage license, to get the reception details hammered out, and to hire a few vendors, as chances are good that you’re not just going to settle for a 20-minute ceremony over your lunch hour without any kind of a reception to follow.
The more time you give yourself and your guests, the less stressed everyone will be.
Arrive on Time
In fact, arrive before your scheduled times. You’ll need time to find parking and to get through security. You’ll probably want a little time to snap some photos on the courthouse steps.
Give yourself a good hour before your scheduled wedding time. Then be prepared to wait a little bit.
Yeah, it’s not fair: you have to be on time and the courthouse can make you wait. Still, if you aren’t there when your names are called you might not be able to get back on the docket, and that will be pretty tragic if you’ve already sent out invitations and planned a big celebration to follow.
Arriving on time is also just respectful to your officiant, your guests, and to each other.
Be Ready When You Arrive
In a formal wedding there are often bride’s chambers and groom’s chambers where each half of a couple can get ready.
These accommodations will not exist at the courthouse. You’ll have to get ready prior to, in your own space.
Fortunately this may not be as hard when you’re having a civil wedding, because chances are you’re not showing up in a full bridal gown with a 10 foot train and a veil. Most brides choose to wear white to their courthouse weddings, but they go sleek and chic rather than flouncy and formal.
That doesn’t mean you can’t splurge on a spa day though, if you want your hair and make-up to look stellar prior to your big day.
Leave in a Timely Fashion
There could be 20, 30, or even 50 other couples waiting in line behind you to get married. They need your room and your officiant to do it. Don’t try to write vows that take up more time than have been allotted, and make your way out of the room in a fast, orderly fashion after the judge offers closing thoughts.
Do not stand around in the room chit chatting. While the judge would likely chase you out anyway, it’s not fair to put them in that position.
Plan an Afterparty
Since the courthouse wedding will usually only last 20 minutes and will have a very limited number of guests the reception is usually where you’ll be able to take some steps to make your big day a lot more special.
It’s also an opportunity to spoil your guests a little. They made the time to come celebrate with you. The least you can do is pay for some amazing booze and food and give them some big hugs for being there.
Basic Wedding Etiquette Rules Still Apply
All the normal basics of wedding etiquette continue to apply even if you’re having a civil wedding. There are lots of resources available to you covering almost every situation you can think of, which means there’s no good reason not to mind your Ps & Qs. Observing good wedding etiquette isn’t about being stuffy, formal, or rigid. It’s about treating the people around you with respect, caring, and kindness. Ideally these people will support you and your spouse for the rest of your lives. Taking the time to do your wedding the right way is an investment into the success of your marriage, too.