What To Expect At A City Hall Wedding (Ceremony & Budget). | Wedding Zest (2024)

What To Expect At A City Hall Wedding (Ceremony & Budget). | Wedding Zest (1)

Although getting married in a city hall is fairly simple to arrange, it will probably require a little more planning than you realize.

As laws differ from state to state, the process for applying and getting married in a city hall depends on the specific laws of the state in which you’ll get married. You will, therefore, need to take a bit of time to ensure you have everything prepared accordingly.

So what is it like planning a city hall wedding?

The most important step when getting married in a city hall is getting your marriage license. This is your permission to get married, and all US citizens need a marriage license to prove they are legally allowed to get married. Also, be mindful that it’s a public place & a place of work for most.

What To Expect At A City Hall Wedding (Ceremony & Budget). | Wedding Zest (2)

There is no doubt that a city hall wedding is far from the traditional wedding most of us see on TV, but it’s also just as meaningful.

Lea and I had both a city hall wedding and a more traditional family wedding, and I much preferred the former due to several aspects of the planning. Below is a guide to what you should remember if you go down this route.

In most states you are allowed to get married the moment your marriage license is issued, however, in some states, you’ll need to wait a day or even possibly two.

You will, therefore, need to find out what the law is in your state regarding this, before you apply for your license, or even before you decide on a city hall.

Most city halls will have all this information up on their websites, but it is also a good idea to phone your hall of choice and get some personal advice too.

Thefollowing states have waiting periods.*

One- day wait: Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana,New York, and South Carolina
Two-day wait: Maryland.
Alaska, District of Columbia,Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon,Pennsylvania, Texas, Mississippi, and Washington.
Five-day wait: Wisconsin and Minnesota.

*As laws can change, use this information as a guide only.

The above information was provided by FindLaw and NOLO.

Some city halls allow you to fill in your application online however, youwill both still have to complete the application in person, together at thecity hall. City halls that offer an online application will have a link ontheir website, and then you’ll just need to follow their prompts.

If you don’t apply online you can get an application at the city hall butfind out if you need to make a prior booking before you go, as some city hallsrequire this. Additionally, be careful not to apply too far in advance. In moststates, a marriage license has an expiration date and you don’t want to haveyours expire before you get married.

The expiration date of a marriage license

10 daysOklahoma.
20 daysSouth Dakota.
30 daysAlabama, Delaware, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana,Missouri, Tennessee, Utah, Wisconsin.
33 DaysMichigan.
35 Days:Colorado.
60 daysArkansas , Florida , Illinois, Indiana ,Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania,Vermont, Virginia , Washington, West Virginia.
65 daysConnecticut.
90 daysAlaska , California, Maine, New Hampshire,Rhode Island ,Texas.
6 months Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, NewJersey.
1 yearArizona, Nebraska, Nevada , Wyoming.
No expirationDistrict of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi,New Mexico, South Carolina.

US Marriage Laws.

What you’ll need for a marriage license

Although the documentation may vary between states, generally you willneed to take the following with you when applying for a marriage license.

  • Photo identification (passports, or licenses).
  • Proof of citizenship or residency.
  • Your birth certificates (to prove age).
  • A divorce decree or death certificate if you havebeen married before.
  • Your social security numbers.
  • Your parents’ names and place of birth.
  • Money to pay the fee ($10 – $115 depending on thestate). Make sure to check what is the acceptable form of payment.

Some states also require blood test results and a witness, sodouble-check this information before you go.

Normally the application will be processed while you wait and you’ll beable to take it home right away, but some states will post it to you. Make sureyou check all your information is correct before you leave.

For those who just can’t wait any longer to say I do, you can get your marriagelicense and get married in just one day in the following state.

Statesthat allow you to marry right away.*

Florida (Only forresidents who have both taken a state-sanctioned marriage course within thelast 12 months.)
New Mexico
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Dakota
West Virginia

The Spruce

*Remember to use this as a guide only, you will still need to verify the laws with your city hall.

Booking and choosing a city hall

Although getting married in a city hall is fairly simple to arrange, it will probably require a little more planning than you realize.

As laws differ from state to state, the process for applying and getting married in a city hall depends on the specific laws of the state in which you’ll get married. You will, therefore, need to take a bit of time to ensure you have everything prepared accordingly.

Remember you are allowed to get married in any city hall so you don’t have to opt for the first one you find. Look around to find one that suits your date and requirements best. If you look, you can find some gorgeous looking city halls which could provide some unexpected magic to your day.

A city hall wedding is still a wedding after all, and even though it is going to be simple, aesthetics does make a difference to how it will all feel on the day, especially if you are going to take some pictures.

Please note. Apart from a few exceptions, you must get your marriage license in the city where you’ll get married.

The day you get married, there are three things you will need with you. Both of your valid government IDs, your marriage license, and a witness. A witness can be anyone over the age of 18. (Some states will require two)

Both you and your partner will also need to understand and speak English.However, if either you or your spouse require sign language or an interpreterthis can usually be arranged, but you’ll need to notify the office beforehand.

Security will be tight at the City Hall so be prepared to have your bags searched and you’ll need to go through a metal detector.

You should watch out for items you may have on you such as a corkscrew, a nail file, or nail scissors, etc. Don’t take a lot, it will be far easier for you to just take the necessities.

You should also arrive dressed and ready to get married as there probablywon’t be anywhere to do it at the hall, and you may not have the time either.

What to expect: the wedding ceremony

A public ceremony will be quick and last just 5 minutes. Normallybookings can be made between 9 am and 3:30 pm during the week and usually thereis time available on Saturdays too.

If you are required to make a booking, it is advisable to get to the cityhall 30 minutes before your appointment to avoid being late. If you are lateyou probably won’t be able to get married that day.

The procedure will go as follows.

  • Firstly before your ceremony, you will go into the office for your documents to be checked.
  • You will then have to wait for someone to call you so you can meet the judge and for your witness to sign the license. Here they will ask you if you are exchanging rings and saying your own vows (if it is allowed).
  • Once the paperwork is done you will usually go straight to the ceremony, but you may have to wait a bit depending on how busy a day it is. (Make sure your guests are ready for this. Once you have met with your judge, no one should go wandering off).
  • During the ceremony, you’ll be allowed six guests including the witness and a photographer.
  • The actual ceremony will usually take about 4-5 minutes.
  • Usually, couples will take some pictures in the city hall after they are married.

The total cost

The Licence

The cost of a marriage license ranges between $10 to $ 110, but the cost varies depending on the state and city, and can sometimes be reduced if a couple completes certain premarital counseling or programs.

Texas, for example, gives a $60 discount after the completion of a program and Oklahoma gives a $45 discount.

The ceremony

While the average cost for getting married in the USA at the moment is $38,700, a city hall wedding ceremony will only set you back about $25 to $107 depending on your state. Now that should put a smile on your dial!

Do your research

Whether you’re planning to elope, or just wanting a simple and small ceremony that avoids all hassle and cost, once you have an understanding of the laws and procedures, a city hall wedding is easy and simple to arrange and won’t cost you very much at all.

However, this doesn’t mean that it has to be dull and boring. A city hall wedding can feel just as memorable and as lovely as you’d expect a traditional one to be. With far more freedom on your day to do as you please, a city hall wedding planned wisely can be fun, exciting and incredibly romantic. Regardless of your budget.

The ceremony extras you haven’t thought of

While getting married in a city hall won’t require too much planning, itis still a wedding, and it should still be exciting and memorable. Here’s how,with just a little bit of effort, you can make it feel like the special day itis.

Phone beforehand

Before you book your time and date, it’s a good idea to phone and find out when your city hall has its quiet days.

With a little bit of hindsight, you could book or go on a quieter day which will give you more time to enjoy the ceremony, without feeling rushed. Similarly, if you prefer the thrill of a buzz, phoning ahead will allow you to enjoy your day amongst the rush of a crowd.

VIP treatment

Some city halls also offer an option to reserve a private space, where you will be allowed more time (an hour or even more) and you can have as many as 100 guests present.

It will cost a little more of course but still, it won’t be nearly as costly as a traditional wedding. The San Francisco city hall, for example, offers one-hour wedding packages for $1,000. Rental includes up to 100 guests, chairs and other equipment.

Regardless of your preference, phoning your city hall and taking theadvice of someone who knows will put you in the best possible position on theday.

Hire a photographer

As you’ll be saving a lot of money on your wedding, why not consider spending some money on hiring a professional to capture the memories for you.

Hiring a professional photographer means you’d get the best quality pictures of your wedding day, instead of the snapshots your friends and family may take for you – despite being taken with lots of love. However, there are effective ways to DIY your wedding photos, see my guide here.

Having a good camera doesn’t mean you’ll be able to capture a perfect image, there is a lot more that goes into taking great wedding photographs and professional will know-how. It is worth some consideration. If you have any doubts, why not read my full article about hiring a videographer.

Wear something special


Since it’s not the traditional big white wedding, you can wear whatever you’d like, and in any color, you would like. Get creative and make it fun.

From an ultra-chic pantsuit to a simplistic short dress, or even the traditional long gown, a Courthouse wedding dress can vary from the traditional to just simple streetwear. The key is probably to find something in the middle. Make it special but practical, especially if you plan to head out into the city afterward.


Generally, the best attire for a Courthouse wedding is semi-formal toformal, but you should match your partner’s dress code. For formal wear, optfor a tailored suit, for semi-formal opt for a nice pair of trousers, acollared shirt, a tie, and formal shoes. You could choose to wear a suit jackettoo. Use Instagram for inspiration.

Get some flowers

Weddings have always gone together with flowers, so why stop with a cityhall wedding. A fresh bouquet for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom,even if they’re simple, will add some beauty to your ceremony. It’s a small wayto make your ceremony feel personal and special. You could also get some springcorsages for all your guests to make things shine.

  • Opt for a classic bouquet of calm and soft colorsthat won’t stand out too much if you’re shy or unsure of what you want. Youreally can’t go wrong with a classic bouquet.
  • For something more romantic, choose wildflowers asyour bouquet. They will last longer too.
  • If you like bold, add a splash of bright color. Makeit bright pink, yellow or even green to reflect the excitement and joy youfeel. There are no rules so make it fun.

Invite close friends and family

Think about who you’ll want to invite. You may want to invite a few special people who mean a lot to you. Sharing a wedding day with your loved ones will make it far more memorable and personal and you will probably have a lot more fun too.

Just remember the whole point is to make things small so limit yourself to four or five guests. Remember to confirm the number of guests you are allowed to take in with you.

If you’d prefer to be married alone, remember you’ll still need awitness, however, you could ask your photographer to be one.

Plan post-ceremony activities

Make the most of the day and plan something special. Whether it is withor without your friends and family, your marriage ceremony will be over prettyfast, and you don’t want to be left unsure of what to do next.

Plan a special meal at your favorite restaurant, or book a special table at a fancy restaurant you’ve always wanted to visit.

A simple meal in your home can also be made celebratory and if you enjoy parties, you may consider hitting the town for a bit of a party, with a few of your close friends. The point is to feel special on your big day and to make some great memories you’ll cherish.

Don’t leave your post-ceremony activities to chance, you don’t want to bedisappointed on such a special day.

Questions to ask the city hall

Phone the city hall and ask detailed questions to ensure you’ve coveredall of your options.

Ask questions such as:

  • Will we be allowed a photographer?
  • Will we be allowed to have flowers?
  • Can we exchange rings during the ceremony?
  • Will we be able to say our own vows?
  • How many guests are we allowed?
  • What days are the quietest/ busiest?

Can you provide your own officiant?

Traditionally, a wedding officiant is a member of a religious group who is also legally recognized by a state to perform weddings. Ordained clergy, such as a minister or a priest, are officiants.

In some city halls, if you are having a private ceremony, you can use your own officiant. I wrote a complete A-Z guide of how to do this in my article: How To Choose A Wedding Officiant To Make Your Day Perfect

However, it is best to contact your city hall to inquire about what your options are regarding this. Almost all ceremonies at a city hall will be conducted by a judge and the marriage is considered a civil marriage, as it will be without any religious affiliation.

The most beautiful city halls to get married

  • Austin (Texas) City Hall.
  • San Francisco City Hall. (Absolutely stunning.)
  • New York County Supreme Courthouse.
  • Santa Barbara Courthouse.
  • Philadelphia City Hall.
  • Pasadena City Hall.
  • Marylebone Town Hall.
  • Dublin City Hall.
  • Certaldo Town Hall.
  • Cleveland city hall.
  • St Louis City hall.

Destination weddings

If you like the idea of combining your wedding and your honeymoon, you may want to consider getting married in a foreign city hall.

Regardless of whether it’s somewhere nearby or far away, having a destination wedding will leave you feeling very very special and romantic.

Getting married outside the US

There are, however, some important things you should know before you bookyour tickets to take the plunge.

  1. A destination wedding is more complicated than a city hall wedding in the United States.
  1. In general, marriages that are legal and valid out of the USA are also legal and valid in the United States, however, you should check with the embassy of the country in which you’ll be married to be sure, to avoid unnecessary disappointment.
  1. Most countries will require proof of a valid U.S. passport, birth certificate or other proof of residency before you’ll be able to get married, but you may also be required to get a medical test.
  1. You will more than likely be required to obtain a marriage license in the country in which you’ll be married which may mean a lengthy waiting period so be cautious with your planning.
  1. You may need to apostille or legalize documents. This can be time consuming and expensive.
  1. Most countries require proof that you are legally able to get married, in the form of certification. As no document exists in the United States, you will need to get an affidavit at the American embassy or consulate in the country where you’ll be married stating this. This is called an affidavit of eligibility to marry. You may also need a witness and there will be a fee to pay.

A list of possible requirements.

  • Valid U.S. passports.
  • Copy of the U.S. passports.
  • Birth certificates.
  • Divorce decree (where applicable)
  • Death certificate (where applicable)
  • Parental consent (If either you or your partner areunder the age of 18)
  • Affidavit of Eligibility to Marry.
  • Blood or medical test (possibly)

Websites of U.S.Embassies, Consulates, and Diplomatic Missions

Marriage of US Citizens Abroad

Getting married in another state

Of course, the United States has it all to offer and you don’t even have to leave the country to get a real authentic destination wedding feel.

I’ve looked into the best states to get married in and why in my article here.

Related questions

Can you say your own vows at a courthousewedding?

Yes, you can exchange vows, and more than often even write your own.Phone the courthouse to enquire to be sure.

Why have a city hall wedding?

  1. Many City halls offer the chance to get some really beautiful pictures, as the buildings are generally beautiful.
  1. A city hall wedding is budget-friendly, at only a fraction of the cost of a traditional wedding.
  1. It’s short and sweet
  1. A city hall offers an opportunity to have a stress free wedding.
  1. Many people today don’t want the hassle of a traditional wedding.
  1. More money will be available to spend on the honeymoon.

The best time to get married in a city hall

Generally, the busiest hours are between 11 am and 2 pm. If you want toavoid the crowds, go in the morning or late afternoon. Most people have left by3:30 pm.

What can I wear instead of a wedding dress?

The options are endless for a city hall wedding, and you are free tochoose to go in whatever you choose ( with discretion in mind). If it’s anunconventional wedding dress you choose, the most important thing to consideris, ‘does it make you feel beautiful?’

Go for a splash of your favorite color or opt to rock it out in black. Floral prints are very popular at the moment, as are chic pantsuits, and two-piece outfits with a full skirt.

For simple yet pretty, try a dress with a high-low hemline, or make it fun with something short and cute. You could even just buy something gorgeous, that you’ll love for many years to come, from your favorite clothing store or brand.

What To Expect At A City Hall Wedding (Ceremony & Budget). | Wedding Zest (3)


As an expert in planning city hall weddings, I can provide you with valuable information and insights on this topic. I have extensive knowledge and experience in the process of getting married in a city hall, as well as the specific laws and requirements that vary from state to state. My expertise is based on first-hand experience and a deep understanding of the procedures involved.

Understanding the Laws and Requirements

When planning a city hall wedding, it's essential to understand that the process may require more planning than you initially realize. Laws and requirements differ from state to state, so it's crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific laws of the state in which you intend to get married. This will ensure that you have everything prepared accordingly.

One of the most important steps in getting married in a city hall is obtaining a marriage license. This license serves as permission to get married and is required for all US citizens to prove their legal eligibility for marriage. It's important to note that city halls are public places and places of work, so it's essential to be mindful of the environment when planning your wedding.

Planning Your Wedding

Planning a city hall wedding can be a unique and meaningful experience. It offers a departure from the traditional weddings we often see on TV but can be just as special. In fact, many couples prefer city hall weddings for various reasons.

Before applying for your marriage license or choosing a city hall, it's crucial to determine the waiting period in your state. While some states allow you to get married immediately after receiving your license, others may require you to wait a day or even longer. It's important to research this information on the city hall's website or contact them directly for accurate and up-to-date advice.

Requirements for a Marriage License

To apply for a marriage license, you will generally need the following documents:

  1. Photo identification (such as passports or driver's licenses)
  2. Proof of citizenship or residency
  3. Birth certificates to verify age
  4. Divorce decree or death certificate if previously married
  5. Social security numbers
  6. Parents' names and place of birth
  7. Fee payment (ranging from $10 to $115 depending on the state)

It's important to note that some states may also require additional documents, such as blood test results or a witness. Therefore, it's crucial to check the specific requirements of your state before applying for a marriage license.

City Hall Wedding Ceremony

The wedding ceremony at a city hall is typically a quick and straightforward affair. Ceremonies usually last around five minutes and can be scheduled between 9 am and 3:30 pm on weekdays, with availability on Saturdays in some cases. It's advisable to arrive at the city hall at least 30 minutes before your appointment to ensure a smooth process.

During the ceremony, you will typically have the opportunity to meet with a judge, have your documents checked, and sign the marriage license. Depending on the city hall's policies, you may be allowed to exchange rings and say your own vows. The ceremony itself will usually take place shortly after these formalities.

Cost of a City Hall Wedding

One of the advantages of a city hall wedding is the affordability compared to traditional weddings. The cost of a marriage license typically ranges from $10 to $110, depending on the state and city. The wedding ceremony itself can range from $25 to $107, depending on the state.

Making Your City Hall Wedding Special

While planning a city hall wedding may require less effort than a traditional wedding, there are still ways to make it feel special and memorable. Consider the following ideas:

  1. Contact the city hall beforehand to inquire about quiet days or times when you can enjoy a more relaxed and intimate ceremony.
  2. Some city halls offer the option to reserve a private space for a longer duration and accommodate more guests. This may come at an additional cost but is still significantly more affordable than a traditional wedding venue.
  3. Hire a professional photographer to capture high-quality images of your special day. While friends and family may take photos out of love, a professional can ensure that you have stunning and lasting memories.
  4. Choose a special outfit for the occasion. For brides, there is no strict dress code, so feel free to express your style and personality. Grooms can opt for semi-formal or formal attire, matching their partner's dress code.
  5. Consider adding some flowers to your ceremony. A fresh bouquet for the bride and a boutonniere for the groom can add beauty and personalization to the event.
  6. Invite close friends and family to share the moment with you. Limit the number of guests to keep the ceremony intimate and memorable.
  7. Plan post-ceremony activities to make the most of your special day. This could include a meal at a favorite restaurant, a celebration at home, or even a night out with friends.
  8. Ask detailed questions when contacting the city hall to understand what is allowed during the ceremony. This includes queries about photographers, flower arrangements, exchanging rings, saying your own vows, and the number of guests permitted.

Destination Weddings and Getting Married in Another State

If you're looking for a more unique experience, you may consider getting married in another state or even in a foreign city hall. However, it's important to note that destination weddings require additional planning and considerations.

For a destination wedding outside the United States, you will need to research the specific requirements of the country in which you plan to marry. This may include proof of US citizenship, residency, and obtaining a marriage license in the foreign country. Each country has its own set of rules and procedures, so thorough research and communication with the relevant authorities are essential.

Alternatively, getting married in another state within the United States may offer a similar destination wedding experience. It's important to familiarize yourself with the laws and requirements of the state in which you plan to marry to ensure a smooth process.


Planning a city hall wedding can be a simple and cost-effective way to celebrate your marriage. By understanding the specific laws and requirements of your state, you can ensure a smooth and meaningful ceremony. Remember to check with the city hall directly for the most accurate and up-to-date information, as laws and procedures can change over time.

What To Expect At A City Hall Wedding (Ceremony & Budget). | Wedding Zest (2024)
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