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Planning a Secret Wedding (Is Easier Than You Think)

Published Thursday, Mar. 17th, 2022

Private elopements are trending this year. (Photo by Hannah Busing)

You want to get married… You just don’t want anyone to know about it. 


Secret weddings appeal to couples for a variety of reasons:


Maybe you want a private elopement now and a large public wedding with friends and family later... Maybe you and your sweetheart are ready to say ‘I do’ to marriage, but your families still say ‘We don’t!’ ... Maybe you’re tired of friends and relatives meddling in your ceremony, or want to get married before a secret pregnancy becomes a not-so-secret child, or just love the romance of a clandestine wedding. 


Whatever your reasons, getting married secretly is easier than you might think! 


Follow these 5 suggestions to keep your wedding off the radar of friends and family members. 


1. Hire a professional officiant


Professional wedding officiants know how to mind their own business. And because they aren’t related to you, they won’t accidentally spill the beans to your parents after a few too many cocktails at the family holiday party. 


To find a professional wedding officiant near you, head online to interactive forums and minister directories on wedding websites like WeddingWire, The Knot, or WeddingBee. 



Once you have a list of possible officiants to choose from, visit each one’s social media page or personal website to see examples of previous ceremonies to make your final pick.


2. Consider a ‘confidential marriage license’ 


When a marriage license is filed, it becomes public record – unless you apply for a ‘confidential marriage license.’ California is currently the only state to offer this top-secret alternative to a traditional marriage license, so you may need to travel. 



California’s confidential licenses don't require witness signatures, which means that only you and your officiant need to be present at the ceremony. (And you don’t have to be a resident in California to apply for a license there.) (§ 500)


In Michigan, couples may be able to have their marriage record kept secret, or filed “without publicity,” if their request to do so is approved by a probate judge. In these cases, couples must provide “good reason” in writing in their application, and these reasons must be “determined to be sufficient by the judge of probate.” ( § 551.201



A secret kiss to seal the ceremony!

(Photo by Allef Vinicius) 


3. Choose a destination wedding


The farther your ceremony is from home, the better chance you have of getting married without getting caught. (There’s a reason so many people sneak off to neon-lit Las Vegas for spontaneous elopements!) 



Just remember that destination weddings require more planning – you’ll need to find an officiant who’s authorized to marry people in that state; apply for (and file) your license there; and organize travel and lodging in advance. 


4. Choose a ‘license signing’ ceremony


If a destination wedding isn’t in the stars (or in the budget), don’t worry! Many couples choose a ‘license signing’ ceremony as a simple, fast, and affordable way to wed. 


A license signing ceremony is a no-frills elopement option that focuses only on the formal paperwork necessary for marriage. Your officiant will ask you to exchange vows and state your intent to marry, pronounce you married, and sign your license – all in just a few short minutes! 



After your license signing, you can always plan a vow renewal ceremony or reception if you choose to make your marriage public. (These second wedding ceremonies are sometimes called ‘sequel weddings.’)



5. Be careful who you tell


Keeping a secret is hard, especially when that secret is something as joyful as marriage! That’s why most weddings are community gatherings that celebrate love loudly and publicly. 


If you really want your wedding to be a secret from friends, relatives, or employers, at least for a little while, be careful who you tell about it. Good news (and gossip) has a tendency to spread fast, especially if people are excited for you. 




You might also like: 


How to Elope: The Complete Elopement Checklist


Stylized illustration of two hands , interlocking pinkies, illustrated by artist illustrator Jessica Levey

Illustration by Jessica Levey from "How to Elope: The Complete Elopement Checklist"




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