10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Getting Married At City Hall

Photographed by Winnie Au.
So, you’ve decided to buck the elaborate wedding and head straight to the courthouse. Seems simple enough, right? I thought so, too. And compared to planning a traditional wedding, it is.
But when I decided to call off my big wedding and opt for City Hall nuptials, I was surprised by how little information was out there about how to plan such a thing. That's why I put together this list of things you should know before getting hitched at City Hall. Because whether or not you're throwing a big party, it's still your wedding day — and you shouldn't have to worry about anything.

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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Do Your Research
It may seem obvious, but I can't stress it enough: Make sure you have all the information and logistics figured out ahead of time. When I booked our City Hall ceremony, I had no clue that a second appointment was required to obtain the marriage license. So I had to make sure I booked another appointment right before the ceremony. Some states allow you to make this appointment within 90 days of your wedding; others just make you show up and wait, DMV-style. Yikes.

If I hadn't done the research, we would have arrived that day without the most important piece of paperwork — which means, no wedding. So go to your city's official clerk information page, and read all the details. You'll be glad you did.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Think About Post-Ceremony Activities
You may not be doing a big, traditional wedding, but you might still want to mark the occasion with some sort of celebration after you leave the courthouse — even if it's just swinging by your favorite spot for lunch. But bear in mind that most City Hall weddings take place on weekday mornings, so your restaurant options may be limited. In the months leading up to my ceremony, I had a vision of us rolling up to our favorite restaurant. I had it all planned out in my head — and then I found out that the place doesn't open until 6 p.m. on weekdays. Call around to make sure you don't wind up without a game plan.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Get A Witness
In order to make your marriage official, you're going to need a witness present. Yes, even if you're livestreaming the whole ceremony, you will still need someone physically in the room during your vows to sign the marriage certificate. You probably want this person to be a close friend or family member, though it doesn't have to be. It can literally be anyone you want, as long as they're over 18.

Also worth noting is how many people you're allowed to bring with you to a City Hall wedding. It varies by location, but in San Francisco, for example, you're only allowed six guests, including your official witness.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Arrive Ready
Most City Hall appointments tend to be in the morning and early afternoon. (Ours was at 9 a.m.!) Make sure to arrive fully dressed for the day's festivities. After all, there aren't exactly dressing rooms at the courthouse. So whether you're rocking a full gown or keeping your look simple, handle it at home. Make arrangements for whatever prep you may need (hair, makeup, etc.) to take place beforehand, and give yourself plenty of time.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Hire A Photographer
Part of the reason you went the courthouse route was probably to save dough. But if there is one thing in which we do recommend investing, it's a photographer. Preferably one who knows City Hall really well, and has shot there before. Even if you are the most low-key person in the world, you'll probably want one or two photos to cherish (hopefully) forever. (And in case you need some inspo, here are some of our favorite City Hall wedding photos!)
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Respect The Other Couples
The thing about City Hall? You aren't going to be the only bride or groom in the room. Sorry. Typically, you are allotted 10 or so minutes in the room to regroup after the ceremony, but after that time's up, the train needs to keep moving. Be respectful and acknowledge that other couples are trying to have their moments, too. Don't be those people.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Book Early
When we went to schedule our City Hall ceremony in February, we were so disappointed to find that it was completely booked for months. There's a misconception that you can just decide to go to the courthouse, and be married by 3 o'clock this afternoon. That is not the case, at least not in major cities. Factor wait times into your plans, and be prepared to hold off for a few weeks or months.

On the flip side, keep in mind that not every state allows appointments to be made in advance, period. If that's how your state operates, then you'll just have to show up and wait until the officials can accommodate you.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Add Personal Touches
In most cases, couples getting married at City Hall will not be able to read their own vows during the ceremony. So, you might want to consider other ways to add personal touches. It could be anything that makes your day feel more individualized: incorporating a special bouquet or an article of clothing, giving a toast at lunch, or taking photos in places that are meaningful to you as a couple. Whatever your personal style, let it shine wherever you can, and make the day your own.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Remember, It's Still A Big Deal
After I decided to go the City Hall route, I found myself downplaying the whole event, as though the lack of a big party somehow diminished the importance of tying the knot. But you know what? It IS a big deal. It is every bit as big of a deal as any other wedding. It may not be over the top, but it's still your big day. Remember that.
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Designed by Paola Delucca.
Splurge In Other Ways
As discussed, maybe the primary motivation for doing a City Hall wedding is to save cash. But even if you're on a tight budget, allow yourselves to splurge, even just a little, on something in honor of your nuptials. You could book a night at a fancy hotel, or buy those pricey shoes you've been wanting; if you do have the funds, invest in a killer honeymoon. Either way, it's likely going to be way less than the cost of a traditional wedding. So, give yourself a break and indulge a little bit. You deserve it!

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