There are a LOT of benefits to having a City Hall wedding. First, you don’t have to worry about paying an exorbitant wedding venue cost (or spend months trying to find one). Second (and third, and fourth, and fifth) is that you’ll either be eliminating or cutting down your other wedding costs by way more than half. For example, while a regular wedding photography package might cost you $4,000, hiring the same photographer for a couple of hours instead could save you close to $3,000. And chances are you’ll get just as many album-worthy, gorgeous shots than you would have if you had a larger wedding.
So, how do you have the best City Hall wedding ever? Like any other woman getting married, you want to be prepared! Know your timeline, fees, and how you want to organize the day ahead of time so you don’t have any surprises. We’ve made a step-by-step guide, below, to help you plan a City Hall wedding you’ll remember forever.
Step 1: Party of Two?
You’re engaged! Congrats! Now what? Whether you’ve always known you wanted a City Hall wedding or if it’s a recent decision, the first thing you’ll want to figure out is what kind of experience you want it to be. While eloping can be an extremely romantic, intimate event, it’s one that can be wrought with some complicated decisions in terms of what to tell family and friends (and how to deal with their reactions). If you’re planning to elope, make sure to communicate with your closest family and friends. Here’s a few pointers to help you elope without freaking everybody out.
Step 2: Not eloping? Who do you want to invite?
Deciding you want to invite your closest family and friends is amazing, but it can also be extremely hard to par down your guest list. The first thing you’ll want to figure out is if you want to invite your closest family and friends to your actual Civil Ceremony, or if you want them to congratulate you outside as you all make your way to a nearby restaurant or house. But before you send out the invites, find out how many guests you are allowed to have with you at City Hall. For example, San Francisco City Hall only allows a total of 6 guests (including at least one witness), and if you’re hiring a wedding photographer they would count as one of them.
Step 3: Pick a Date!
One of the most important things to remember when planning your City Hall wedding is that you will need to have a valid marriage license BEFORE you can get married (same as if you were having a larger wedding), and many states require a waiting period after getting one, which can be as long as a couple of days. Some cities (like San Francisco) allow you to make a reservation up to 90 days in advance of your Civil Ceremony, while others (like New York) do not accept reservations and you can just walk in during their operating hours and take a number. Tip: If you are getting married at a City Hall that does not take reservations, I recommend going EARLY to avoid the crowds (but that rings true for just about every place, doesn’t it?). Find out everything you need to know about marriage licenses and waiting times (and fees) here.
Step 4: Make your reservations and/or book your tickets
The great thing about City Hall weddings is that they are a fool-proof way to have a destination wedding/honeymoon in the same spot. Most major cities do not require that you be a resident to get married there, which means you can fly to Boston, New Orleans, San Francisco or New York City on a Monday, get married on a Wednesday, and spend the rest of week exploring your new favorite anniversary spot. Just make sure, again, to find out the waiting period between getting your marriage license and saying ‘I Do,’ in your intended state BEFORE you make your travel plans.
Staying in town? Once you decide when you’re going to tie the knot and who you’re going to invite, you’ll want to figure out what your plans are after the ceremony. Do you want to go to your favorite restaurant with a group of family and friends (a la Sex in the City)? Or maybe you want a small get-together at your house after…or maybe you want to go to a romantic dinner or lunch, just you and your new spouse? Whatever you choose the earlier you can make reservations and get the wheels in motion, the better!
Step 5: Book Your Photographer, Figure Out Your Flowers, etc.
As soon as you set your date and plans in stone, you should begin your search for a great wedding photographer who can document your City Hall wedding. While you can skip the wedding photographer altogether, having someone there to document your big day is something you’ll never regret (whereas not having any photos might definitely bum you out later). You can inquire about half-day or full-day packages with your wedding photographer depending on what your plans are before and after the wedding. And as mentioned earlier, if you are eloping a wedding photographer will most likely happily serve as your required witness.
Want to get an amazing wedding bouquet? While some City Hall locations will have flowers available on-site, a local florist should be able to arrange a bouquet and/or boutonniere for you given a week’s notice. You can also stop by your favorite flower-stand and buy a bouquet or a single flower to put in your hair. If you tell them you’re getting married you might even get it for free! You never know. 🙂
Step 6: Find something to wear!
I have to admit that I’m kind of jealous of all the amazing fashion choices open to City Hall brides. While you can wear a white jumpsuit to a wedding anywhere, it just seems to fit in so chicly at a City Hall wedding. I suggest you go for something unique and amazing…a dress or pantsuit that you would definitely feel comfortable wearing on the subway or cab or restaurant afterwards. As for the groom? They have it easy! A suit, tux, or even a jacket with a nice pair of jeans will always do the trick.
Step 7. Bring yourself–and your photo ID’s!
Make sure you have all necessary documentation (license, birth certificate, proof of divorce, etc.) before you go to City Hall or hop into that plane/train/or automobile. All that’s left to do after that is bring your partner, your rings, something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue (if you believe in that wedding tradition), and a smile, knowing you’re about to marry the love of your life AND save a ton of money. Woo-hoo!