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Fun Alternatives to a Courthouse Wedding (No Hassle Marriage Ceremony)

Published Tuesday, Jun. 25th, 2024

Young newlyweds pose playfully at the fair or carnival following their wedding ceremony
Skip the courthouse and choose an affordable elopement instead! Ask your wedding officiant to meet you at the fair or carnival for a short ceremony, followed by rides, photos, and fun! (Photo: Nikola Stojadinovic /iStock)

3 simple courthouse wedding alternatives that are simple, fun, and personal



Maybe it’s your second time getting married and you don’t want the hassle of planning another wedding.


Maybe you don’t have the money for a big wedding (or even a small wedding).


Maybe you want to get married in secret without anyone knowing…


Or maybe you just want a simple ceremony because it feels more intimate and meaningful than a big event. 


Whatever the reason, you might be considering a courthouse marriage ceremony instead of a traditional wedding. 


But did you know there are several sweet alternatives to a courthouse wedding or city hall ceremony? The options below are affordable, fun, and personal. 



Newlyweds sit at a table in a cafe sharing a cup of coffee. They are photographed through the window, smiling up at the photographer who is outdoors

Photo: iPandastudio / iStock
Many couples like the idea getting hitched at city hall or the local courthouse, but struggle with how to make a courthouse wedding special. If this sounds familiar, consider one of the fun alternatives below. License signing ceremonies, ‘just us’ elopements, and other minimonies bring all the ease and affordability of the courthouse, plus a fun and personal touch. If you’re still set on a courthouse wedding, consider dressing up, inviting friends, and going out for brunch or drinks afterward.


Fun and Affordable Alternatives to a Courthouse Marriage Ceremony 


Lots of couples skip the courthouse in favor of one of these small, affordable options: 



Sign and Go Elopement Ceremony 


Also called a ‘Make it Legal Marriage Ceremony’, ‘Express Marriage Ceremony,’ or a ‘Marriage License Signing Ceremony,’ these simple ceremonies are just what they sound like: you meet with an officiant, they sign your marriage license, and then you go! 


You can wear whatever you want to a sign and go ceremony, and the process is quick and easy. Your officiant will confirm that you want to get married, you can exchange simple vows and rings (or not), and your officiant will sign your marriage license and declare you married. Easy breezy, and it usually costs $100 or less. 





Newlyweds sit at a cafe and enjoy a cup of coffee and tea after their marriage license signing ceremony. They are dressed up in formal wedding outfits for their signing, and are smiling and laughing happily.

Photo: manifeesto / iStock

Dress up for your marriage license signing ceremony! You can skip the wedding without skipping the cute clothes and photos: After you sign the marriage license with your officiant during a 'sign and go' ceremony, meet a friend for post-ceremony photos in a park or cafe and capture that unmistakable newlywed glow. 


‘Just Us’ Elopement Ceremony


These simple elopement ceremonies are low-key like courthouse ceremonies, but much more personal. They’re similar to traditional weddings, but with one big difference – there are no wedding guests! 


A wedding officiant will meet with you, read from a short standard ceremony script, and guide you through your ‘I do’s. Then they’ll pronounce you married and sign your marriage license: sweet and simple.


Just Us Elopements are a great choice if your state doesn't require witnesses to sign your marriage license, and you like the idea of a wedding but don’t want all the hassles involved in making a guest list, choosing decor, arriving early, entertaining out of towners, and all the expenses included in the average wedding cost. These elopements usually run between $100-300, which is the typical fee for a professional officiant’s time and signature.




Two brides stand with a wedding officiant during a small 'just us' elopement ceremony in the woods

Just you, your officiant, and lots of love! A 'just us' elopement can be special without a lot of effort or expense. Wear something that makes you feel wonderful, meet with your officiant and exchange 'I do's, and celebrate that signed marriage license as newlyweds! 


Office Elopement (Classic Elopement without a Reception)


These small ceremonies are very similar to a courthouse ceremony but are more private and personal.


You meet with a wedding officiant at their office, or in a public place like a library, or at home, where they will conduct the ceremony. You can invite a few of your closest friends, exchange vows and rings, and then the officiant will pronounce you married and sign your marriage license. A small elopement usually includes no more than 10 guests.


After you’re married, you and your guests can head out for brunch, grab drinks, or simply celebrate your marriage together! Easy, cheap, sweet – and there’s no pre-ceremony set-up or post-ceremony clean up to worry about! 



Newlyweds stand with their wedding guests after a courthouse wedding ceremony

Photo: martinedoucet / iStock
How does a courthouse marriage work?

To get married at the courthouse, couples need to apply for a marriage license and then make an appointment with a clerk or judge to perform their ceremony. In general, it is not possible to apply for a license and have a judge or clerk marry you on the same day. On the day of your appointment, the marriage official will perform a simple civil ceremony, confirm that you want to be married, and sign your marriage license. In many cases, it will be more convenient to have a private officiant marry you instead, at your home or at a local cafe in a ‘marriage license signing ceremony.’ Private signing ceremonies can happen on your schedule, any day of the week, and in any location.



How many guests at a courthouse wedding vs the alternatives above? 


One of the most important things to consider when deciding which of the options above is best for you is the number of guests you want to invite to your ceremony. Every courthouse has different rules for how many guests you can have at a marriage ceremony, but in general the limit is no more than 10 people; similar guidelines apply to the options above. 


If your guest list includes: 


No guests: 
If your state doesn’t require any witnesses to sign the marriage license and you don’t want to invite friends or relatives, then you might choose a ‘just us’ elopement with no guests as a simple and intimate alternative to the courthouse. 


1 to 2 guests: 
If you only want to invite the required number of witnesses to your ceremony, or just a friend or two, then any of the options described above will work. 


See how many witnesses are required in your state here: Witness Requirements on Marriage License by State


3 to 10 guests:
If you’d like to invite 3 to 10 people, you’ll want to choose a classic elopement or courthouse marriage ceremony. Classic elopements might take place at an officiant’s office, at home, or in a location you choose; courthouse ceremonies must take place during courthouse hours in the clerk’s office. Remember: every courthouse has different rules on how many guests can attend your ceremony; some city hall and courthouse marriage officials don’t allow any guests; and some courthouses don’t offer marriage services at all. Always call ahead to ask. 



Close up image of a groom placing a gold wedding ring onto a bride's finger

Photo: Yue_ / iStock
Do you exchange rings at a courthouse wedding? Or at a marriage license signing ceremony? It’s up to you! In fact you don’t have to exchange wedding rings to get married at all – no matter where your ceremony takes place. Wedding rings are a symbolic wedding tradition, but they are not a legal requirement to marry. In fact, many young couples are choosing not to exchange rings, or are choosing nontraditional wedding rings that are more whimsical, personal, and offbeat than those of the past. 


How to find a Wedding Officiant for One of The Simple Courthouse Alternatives Above


One of the benefits of a courthouse marriage ceremony is that it’s easy to find an officiant – they’re right there at the courthouse. But don’t forget: you’ll still need to make a weekday appointment with a clerk or judge, take time off work, and coordinate with any guests who would like to witness your ceremony. 


Luckily, finding a private officiant for one of the alternatives listed above can be simple too, and your ceremony can take place anywhere, at any time! Try one of these options: 



  • Do an internet search for ‘wedding officiants’ in your area and ask what their rate is for signing your marriage license (with or without an elopement ceremony)


  • Do an internet search for ‘marriage license signing.’ Just hop on Google, Bing, or whichever search engine you prefer, and find an officiant who says they offer a ‘express marriage ceremony’ or ‘marriage license signing ceremony’ service.



Ready to get married? Here are your next steps:



Learn more about the marriage license here: 



Learn more about who can officiate a wedding in your state here: 



Ask a friend to become a wedding minister to officiate your marriage! They can complete the simple online form for free here: 



Newlyweds pose outside on their wedding day wearing black leather jackets over their suit and dress, and holding a cardboard sign that says 'just married' in marker

Photo: pixdeluxe / iStock
What should a bride wear to a courthouse wedding? What about a groom, nonbinary marrier, or gender nonconforming marrier? We're thrilled to report that wedding attire is becoming more creative and gender neutral every day! Marriers of any gender can wear whatever they want to get married, and you can dress up or dress down depending on your style and budget. This means that you can go all out if you want to, with a stunning wedding gown or custom tux, or keep it casual with any outfit that makes you feel cute and comfortable. Any of the alternative ceremonies above follow this same trend – wear what YOU want, and have a wonderful wedding day! 


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Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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