Courthouse Wedding Guide: Do’s and Don’ts for Your Special Day

Courthouse weddings offer a unique blend of simplicity, affordability, and intimacy. Whether you’re not keen on the extensive planning of a traditional wedding, or you’re eager to expedite your journey into married life, a courthouse wedding might be your ideal choice. These ceremonies, typically held in a legal setting like a city hall, place the focus on the essence of marriage rather than an extravagant celebration. However, it’s important to remember a few key considerations. This guide merges the allure and practicality of courthouse weddings, guiding you through the process to ensure your day is both impactful and flawlessly organized.

Understanding Courthouse Weddings

wake county courthouse
Photo by Elyssa Kivus at the Wake County Courthouse

Courthouse weddings are civil ceremonies officiated by a legal authority, with specific legal requirements that vary by location. They are distinct from traditional weddings in several aspects: the style of the venue is more governmental, the cost and duration are generally lower and shorter, the guest list is smaller due to space limitations, guest expectations lean towards informality, and attire ranges from formal to casual, according to the couple’s preference.

The Do’s of Courthouse Weddings

santa barbara county courthouse wedding lin and jirsa photography
Photo by Lin and Jirsa at the Santa Barbara Courthouse

As you plan your courthouse wedding, keep these tips in mind.

Research and Plan Ahead

Knowledge is key. Understand the legal requirements and paperwork necessary for your location. Schedule your ceremony and familiarize yourself with the courthouse’s rules and procedures. A good starting point is to do a Google search for the term [your location] courthouse wedding.

Dress Appropriately

Your attire for a courthouse wedding should be a thoughtful reflection of the significance of the occasion, while also being mindful of the more understated and formal nature of the courthouse setting. Opting for a balance between elegance and simplicity is key. For instance, a chic, tailored suit or a sleek, sophisticated dress can convey the solemnity of the event without being overly extravagant. It’s important to choose an outfit that makes you feel confident and special, yet is appropriate for the dignified environment of a courthouse. Accessories can be used to add a personal touch or a hint of glamour, but they should complement the overall look rather than overpower it. The goal is to strike a harmonious blend of respectfulness and celebration, embodying the joy of your union and the respect for the legal process of marriage. This careful selection of attire will not only show reverence for the venue but also ensure that you look back on your wedding photos with a sense of timeless pride.

Personalize Your Ceremony

Within the confines of courthouse regulations, find ways to add personal touches. Whether it’s through your vows, a special accessory, or a meaningful reading, these small gestures can make your ceremony unique.

Bring Witnesses and a Photographer

Typically, for a courthouse wedding, you’ll need a couple of witnesses, which presents a unique opportunity to involve close friends or family members in your special day. Selecting the right people for this role is more than just fulfilling a legal requirement; it’s about choosing individuals who hold a special place in your life and relationship. These witnesses will not only sign your marriage certificate but also stand by your side as tangible symbols of support and love. It’s a chance for them to partake in the joy and solemnity of your union, making the moment even more memorable. When choosing your witnesses, consider those who have been instrumental in your journey as a couple or who have played a significant role in your lives. Their presence during the ceremony will add a layer of emotional significance, and their signatures on your marriage document will forever mark their witness to the commitment you make to each other.

Hire a photographer

Hiring a photographer to capture these moments will provide lasting memories. Consider booking the photographer for the ceremony as well as a couples session and family portraits session. If the courthouse is aesthetically pleasing and allows for photos on the premises, consider doing it all there. If not, research nearby locations for your photography session.

The Don’ts of Courthouse Weddings

tacoma courthouse square locle films
Photo by Loc Le at the Tacoma Courthouse

Avoid these common mistakes with courthouse weddings.

Don’t Overlook the Legalities

The legal aspect of your marriage is paramount, serving as the foundation upon which your union is officially recognized. It’s crucial to ensure all your documents are meticulously prepared and in order. This includes marriage licenses, identification papers, and any other necessary legal forms required by your jurisdiction. Understanding the consequences of any incomplete or incorrect paperwork is essential, as such oversights can lead to delays or even the invalidation of your marriage. It’s advisable to double-check all documents for accuracy, perhaps even consulting with a legal expert or the courthouse staff to confirm that everything is correctly filled out and submitted. This attention to detail will not only give you peace of mind but also ensure that the legal formalities of your marriage are flawlessly executed, paving the way for a smooth and joyful wedding day. Remember, these legalities are not just bureaucratic formalities; they are the official recognition of your commitment to each other, making them an integral part of your wedding day.

Don’t Bring a Large Entourage

Courthouse spaces are often limited, offering a cozy and intimate setting that naturally lends itself to a smaller, more personal gathering. When planning a courthouse wedding, it’s important to keep your guest list minimal and intimate. This not only ensures that you comply with the space limitations of the venue but also fosters a more meaningful and close-knit atmosphere. By inviting only your closest family members and friends, you create an environment where each guest truly feels part of your special day. The limited space can actually be a blessing in disguise, allowing for a more focused and heartfelt celebration, where every smile, tear, and laugh is shared amongst those who matter most to you. This approach not only simplifies your planning process but also enhances the emotional significance of your ceremony, making your wedding truly memorable for both you and your guests.

Don’t Forget Post-Ceremony Plans

Think about how you’d like to celebrate after the ceremony. Whether it’s a small reception, a dinner, or any other form of celebration, make it special and reflective of your relationship.

Courthouse Wedding Sample Timeline

old orange county courthouse
Photo by Luzye Photography at the Orange County Courthouse

Consider a timeline such as the following for your courthouse wedding:

  • Hair and Makeup – 2 hours prior to courthouse ceremony
  • Depart for courthouse – 1 hour prior to courthouse ceremony
  • Courthouse Ceremony
  • Photography Session with Family and Friends – 1 hour
  • Photography Session with Just Wedding Couple – 1 hour
  • Reception – Dinner Celebration at home or restaurant

Making the Most of Your Courthouse Wedding

old orange county courthouse byc photography
Photo by BYC Photography at the Orange County Courthouse

Courthouse weddings offer a unique opportunity to focus on the essence of your union. Embrace the simplicity and intimacy of the ceremony, blending traditional elements with a modern approach to create an experience that truly represents your love. Celebrate your union in a way that feels most genuine to you as a couple.


Understanding the do’s and don’ts of a courthouse wedding is essential for a smooth and enjoyable experience. This guide aims to provide you with the knowledge and confidence to embrace the uniqueness of your courthouse wedding, ensuring it’s as special and memorable as any traditional ceremony.

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