From what documents you need to when to book the ceremony date.

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Courthouse weddings have undergone a somewhat trendy revival in the last few years. Heck, even Carrie Bradshaw ended up getting married in a label-less dress at City Hall. They’re smaller, low-key affairs that are cost-effective but still romantic. Not to mention they don’t require a year of planning like most traditional big weddings.

And due to the implications of coronavirus (COVID-19), large guest lists are a thing of the past (at least temporarily). Many couples are having to rethink their original nuptial plans. Some may execute intimate virtual weddings over Zoom; others may elope or plan a micro-wedding with proper precautions. And for those looking to simplify the process even further, a courthouse wedding seems like a worthy option.

To give some perspective on just how much goes into a traditional wedding, The Knot’s 2019 Real Weddings Study revealed that the average U.S. wedding costs $33,900 (that’s including the cost of the engagement ring but excluding honeymoon expenses). And because The Knot's study also revealed that more couples are footing the cost of their own weddings, a laid-back courthouse wedding is all the more attractive for those experiencing financial strain or wanting to invest in future investments, like a down payment on a house.

Civil ceremonies (aka courthouse weddings) do take a little bit of planning, though. Before you head to the courthouse to tie the knot, here’s what you need to get in order.

Courthouse wedding checklist:

1. Do your research

Since different municipalities have different requirements, you'll want to start out by checking your local county clerk's website and familiarizing yourself with the rules in the specific county you will be married in. These websites can also provide helpful information on prices, available ceremony dates, and more.

2. Gather documentation for the marriage license

Per U.S. Marriage Laws, couples typically need to provide the following documentation to apply for a marriage license:

    • U.S. current photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport
    • Proof of citizenship and/or residence
    • Birth certificate
    • If previously married, documentation that indicates the end of the previous marriage (divorce certificate, death certificate, etc.)
    • Some may also require a Social Security number
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3. Apply for the marriage license

According to Kristin Wroblewski, industry expert and owner of On the Go Bride, many municipalities have a waiting period and require you to apply for a marriage license before your wedding date—which sometimes has to be scheduled before even applying! Nonetheless, once your documents are handy, you and your spouse-to-be can head to the courthouse to apply for a license. Remember this is the document that legally binds the two of you together—and plays a big role if you're planning on changing your name. It's also the first step toward getting a marriage certificate that will prove that you are, in fact, married. But marriage licenses do expire (for example, after 90 days), so there's no need to get this done too soon before the ceremony date.

4. Set a courthouse wedding date

Decide on a date that will work for your civil ceremony. Amy Mader, a Texas-based event planner with 25 years of experience, tells HelloGiggles that courthouse weddings require an appointment with a judge (who will officiate the wedding and sign your marriage license) and that most judges post their availability on the county website. Keep in mind that these appointments usually need to be within standard business hours of the courthouse itself, so you'll likely need to schedule something on a weekday between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

5. Pay marriage application and ceremony fees

Courthouse weddings are definitely cheaper than an average wedding, but there are a few fees involved. U.S. Marriage Laws reports that fees for marriage licenses can range from as low as $10 to as high as $115, but the average cost is somewhere between $35 and $50. The cost varies based on county, city, or municipality, residential status, and—in some cases—completion of pre-marital counseling or an education course. Additionally, there is usually a small civil ceremony fee of around $35.

6. Secure a witness, if necessary

Some states require the signature of two witnesses that are present to testify to the circumstances in which the wedding ceremony was performed. You can check your state's requirements here, and if you need a witness or two, determine who you would like to share the special moment with beforehand.

7. Invite select family or friends

"Typically at a courthouse wedding, the attendees are either just the bride and groom [or] immediate family," says Mader. "However, they sometimes extend to honor attendants." Again, you'll need to check in with your county courthouse on the specific rules for this (along with potential coronavirus restrictions), but if you are allowed a few select invites, let your people know so they can coordinate logistics.

8. Plan out the post-ceremony celebration

After completing the paperwork and attending the ceremony itself, it's time for the fun part! Whether you choose to celebrate with just your new spouse, invite a few friends and family to join you in a socially distanced hangout, or even decide to throw a larger party at a future date, think about the way you want to mark this joyous and monumental occasion. The good news about a courthouse wedding is that it's made official then and there, as your marriage license can be processed into a certificate without the officiant having to mail it back to the municipality. So, once all is said and done, you can enjoy your newlywed life.