Courthouse weddings are common among military couples. The reasons for getting married by a Justice of the Peace have less to do with eloping and a lot more to do with unpredictable military schedules.
Many couples get married in a courthouse before a deployment or right after Basic training because that’s the only time they know for sure that the service member will be available.
Military benefits are another big motivation to tie the knot legally, before you are able to coordinate a big wedding with all the friends and family. A courthouse wedding is legally binding and makes you officially married.
In the military, that makes the service member eligible for additional benefits like BAH (Basic Allowance for Housing) every month and Separation Pay during deployment. It allows the spouse to be covered by Tricare health insurance and have access to the military base.
That’s why there are many military couples who end up choosing a courthouse wedding. Often, the couple plans some type of celebration later with friends and family, whether it is a wedding reception after deployment or a vow renewal a year later.
Other couples decide to save money and skip the public celebration altogether. The courthouse wedding is their wedding day and that is enough to celebrate.
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Planning a courthouse wedding you’ll remember.
If you are considering a courthouse wedding, you certainly won’t be alone in the military community! Here are some tips to a successful courthouse wedding so your wedding day can go smoothly and be a wonderful memory.
1. Allow time to process paperwork.
A courthouse wedding is a legal process, determined by the state and county. Different states will have different laws, so don’t rely on a friend’s experiences. In general, you first apply for the marriage license, then take the license to a judge or Justice of the Peace for the legal ceremony.
In some places, this can happen on the same day within a few hours. However, other state counties have a three-day waiting period between applying for the marriage license and receiving it.
So if you are planning to get married during a weekend visit, find out ahead of time when and how to apply for the marriage license.
2. Know the courthouse rules.
In some places the magistrate will be at the courthouse. In other locations, it will be at the county jail!
These buildings have restrictions and rules you need to know in advance. In general, be prepared to have two witnesses, and bring an ID (your driver’s license and Social Security card).
You may need to pay the processing fee in cash or credit card. Some buildings have restrictions like no cameras, phones, or video calls. This may affect when you can take pictures and whether you will be able to FaceTime or Skype with distant family members.
Some locations allow walk-in wedding ceremonies, while other state counties expect couples to schedule in advance. Remember that public offices will be closed on federal and bank holidays! It’s best to call ahead to get details for your town’s location. Have a back-up plan in case the judges are booked.
3. Take Pictures.
Get professional photos if possible, either on that day or shortly afterwards. At least have the judge or one of the witnesses snap some pictures of you during or after the ceremony.
Even if you have a big wedding planned later, this is your actual wedding day and you’ll want to have some pictures to remember it. If you have invited family members or friends to the wedding, include them in your photos too.
4. Do Take Time to Find Something Special to Wear
This does not have to be a full on bridal dress and tux, but wearing something nice helps it feel more memorable and special.
You will absolutely treasure looking back on photos where you’re wearing something that took time to put together.
5. For sure get rings.
I’ve known of too many courthouse where the couple did not have rings and highly regretted it. There is something very special about the tradition of exchanging rings together.
Wedding ring styles are modernizing, you don’t need a diamond anymore to keep the ring tradition.
6. Include family and friends, if possible.
Invite those you want to be with you. Some people are eager to share the celebration with parents, family members, or close friends. Other couples prefer the quiet intimacy of celebrating alone.
Remember that you will need two witnesses for the ceremony.
While it is possible to grab some strangers at the courthouse, it’s better to bring along someone you know. If you want to share the day with family members who live far away, consider setting up a video chat via FaceTime or Skype.
7. Don’t feel guilty.
There used to be a stigma about ‘running away’ to get married in a courthouse. But now it is much more common and sometimes practical. It’s your wedding day, so celebrate in a way that is comfortable for both of you.
Dress up if you like, or be casual and relaxed. Invite friends if you want, or make it an intimate ceremony. You can share the news with everyone you know or wait until you see family in person.
If you are considering a courthouse wedding, don’t leave all the planning until the last minute.
Take the time to know the local rules, and discuss expectations with your fiancé. Following these tips will help avoid any surprises so you can both relax and enjoy a stress-free wedding day.