Going To the Courthouse and We’re Gonna Get Married

Reader Elaine asks:

Can you put together a post with some suggestions of how to make a Justice of the Peace or courthouse marriage a little more special? That would be great (and timely)!

First off, congratulations and best wishes, Elaine, to you and your intended! May your wedding kick off a long and happy marriage.

Now, about that kickoff.

There are plenty of good reasons to choose a courthouse ceremony or one where you go to the JP instead of bringing one to you. It’s fast, it’s inexpensive, it’s fuss-free (or nearly so), and the list goes on. Once you’ve got the marriage license and the appointment, you’re pretty much set as far as the practicalities go.

But you’re looking for more than bare bones, which is what these venues tend to offer. So let’s take a look at what you can do to cover them bones.

My first piece of advice is simple enough: dress up.

When you head to the courthouse, you can wear whatever you like from concert tees and Daisy Dukes to a full on wedding gown with cathedral length train and miles of veil. But the best look for a courthouse wedding is something in between. My recommendation? A short or tea-length dress or suit in the color of your choice. Make it something a little special, but don’t wear something that looks so out of place it makes the whole experience a bit dreary by comparison.

Some great ideas of how to do it right can be found here, and here, and here.

Once you’ve picked a dress or suit, do something fabulous up top, too. Whether it’s a really great hat, a funky fascinator, a sparkly jewel, a wreath of flowers, or an adorable birdcage veil, something nice on your head adds a little gravitas and a sense of occasion to the moment. Also, great shoes can do the same for many women. Don’t fear spectacular footwear.

In addition to great clothes, do try to have some flowers. A simple bouquet or a pretty corsage can do a lot to bring the festivity.

Of course, you don’t have a lot of room for personalization in a courthouse wedding when it comes to decoration. The room looks like it looks and that’s that. You can’t bring in your own swags and floral arrangements and carefully crafted centerpieces.

On the other hand, you can always check and see if there’s a spot on site other than the judge’s chambers or the actual courtroom that you can use.

The one courthouse wedding I personally witnessed, well, I was doing my Civic Duty on a jury. When we were given a break for lunch, we discovered a wedding happening in the courtyard of the courthouse. The couple had their witnesses with them, but looked genuinely pleased when we cheered for them from the balcony above. I like to think we added to the occasion.

Before you make too many plans about wedding trappings, though, do check on what you can and cannot do. It may be that one county will allow you something another might not. Or one judge may be more willing to work with you for festivity’s sake than another. In general, though, resign yourself to no music, no decorations, no large wedding parties, and no long ceremony. Let go of them in your heart and play with what you can. for instance, many judges and JPs will allow you to write your own vows.

Most of all, don’t just exchange rings and kisses and head back to your workaday life. Go out for a nice meal with your witnesses, or have a reception for your friends in the evening. Do something special to mark the occasion. I don’t care whether it’s heading off to play in an amusement park in your wedding finery, or taking a wine tasting tour, or holding an epic role playing game session. Just find something that is your idea of real fun and do it.

After all, you just got married!

One Response to “Going To the Courthouse and We’re Gonna Get Married”

  1. Elaine October 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    I was off the grid for a few days (visiting his family!) but thanks so much for posting this! I clicked through all the links and what struck me most were the smiles, shoes, and having a good photographer. Oh yes, and the flowers. :)