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Courthouse Wedding Etiquette

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. 

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Wedding Ring Upgrade Etiquette

Throughout the course of your marriage, you and your partner will grow and change, both as individuals and as a couple. This may mean that your style, budget, and personal tastes all evolve.

For some couples, a wedding or engagement ring update is a great way to celebrate these changes. Maybe you’d like to give your partner something a little nicer than the $99 ring you purchased on your college-era ramen-noodle budget. Or you’d just like to update an older ring in a way that celebrates the time you’ve spent together.

Whatever your reasoning, there are formal etiquette rules for what to do when you want to upgrade your ring.

Do it For the Right Reasons

Just want a bigger rock? You might want to wait a little bit. Having more money alone isn’t a great reason to change your wedding or engagement ring.

Remember that this is a token of the love you share with the most important person in your life. The last thing you want to do is boil it down to something transactional.

There might of course be good, professional reasons why upgrading the value of your ring could matter. If you’re a hotshot corporate lawyer now and your ring is clashing with your suits to the point that it’s being noticed, then you might have grounds to broach the subject with your spouse. Sometimes rings do get noticeably outdated, and if you’re in a style-or-fashion conscious industry that could begin to hurt you professionally as well.

For example, one commenter on Keep It Chic mentioned that she got married in 1984, and the ring was quite obviously an early 80s ring. In her case she liked it that way, because it reminded her that she’d stayed successfully married for 32 years. But if she was working for a high-powered magazine she might have a real, legitimate, professional need to bring that ring’s look straight into the 21st century! 

Everyone’s situation is different, of course. Still, it’s worth examining why you want to upgrade the ring before you jump in to get it done.

Choose a Meaningful Date

Celebrating a milestone anniversary like your 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, or 25th? Renewing your vows?

You have a built-in, celebratory reason to upgrade your ring in some way! Your partner might even offer, based on the occasion.

Celebrating a huge success? If you’re upgrading the ring to commemorate that specific success then this gesture can be hugely meaningful for both spouses.

A ring upgrade can also be a lovely birthday present, if it’s the ring giver offering to do it for the ring-wearer.

Make the Decision With Your Partner

The worst breach of etiquette you could possibly make? Upgrading the ring yourself, without talking to the partner who gave it to you.

Indeed, taking that step could be hugely hurtful to your partner.

The same is true for the giving partner. You might want to gift your partner with a ring upgrade, but this is the one time you shouldn’t leave the gift as a surprise. Your partner might be way more attached to the ring as-is than you know. Besides, you’ll need them to take off the ring so a jeweler can work on it. You don’t want them thinking they’ve lost the ring!

It can feel like an awkward subject to broach, but open, honest conversations are a cornerstone of any marriage.

Fortunately, choosing a new ring together can be a really romantic event, especially for an anniversary. On some forums, for example, people have mentioned that choosing the ring with their husband for an anniversary helped to imbue the new or upgraded ring with even more meaning and romance.

Respect your partner’s decisions here though: this is a subject that can cause a lot of angst and anger if it’s handled poorly.

Limit the Upgrades

Some couples do get entirely different rings, though that usually happens when the original is lost, damaged beyond repair, or no longer fits. Most people will want to preserve the sentimental value of the original ring.

Fortunately, there are ways to make upgrades that won’t alter the ring beyond recognition.

Extra Stones

Taking a one-diamond ring up to a three-diamond ring is a simple update that offers a nice way to celebrate successes or milestones. You could also add two different stones, such as sapphires or rubies, just to get that extra burst of color on your band.

Swapping the Band or Setting

Swapping out the band can be a great way to account for changes in personal style, or to make a dated ring more fashion-forward. Band styles change, as do precious metal preferences.

Perhaps you loved the sparkle of gold in your youth but prefer something a little more understated today. Or want a slightly more complex band shape to celebrate your maturity. Whatever your preferences, there’s a style out there that you’ll love.

Setting changes can offer an even more subtle change, allowing you to update your ring to a more modern style without running the risk that you’re going to turn it into an entirely different ring.

Have Your Ring Engraved

This is a lovely choice for anniversaries and vow renewals. You might engrave the date of your vow renewal, your partner’s initials, a saying that is meaningful to you both, or any number of things onto the band.

While this might not count as an upgrade, it is an update, and one that’s romantic besides.

Use a Ring Enhancer

Not sure you’re comfortable with a full upgrade, but still want to jazz up your ring game every now and then?

Try a ring enhancer, a “stackable” ring that slides over, under, or around your existing wedding or engagement ring. They can quickly give you an updated look without forcing you to make any permanent changes, which can allow you to meet fashion needs or update your style without altering an heirloom.

Get enough of them, and you can even change up your style on the regular! You should, of course, talk to your partner before using these as well, as you don’t want your love taking your enhancer as a sign that you don’t love the ring you received in the first place. As long as you both see it as a harmless way to express your personal style, ring enhancers can often be seen as “fair game” that don’t require you to wait for a special occasion or a specific need.

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