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The Real Cost of Courthouse Weddings: Say ‘I Do’ Without Breaking the Bank

Shirel Berchowitz Updated: February 18, 2024 • 6 min read
married couple walking in the street

Key Points:

  • Recent years have seen a significant increase in the popularity of courthouse weddings, a compelling alternative to traditional ceremonies.

  • Courthouse weddings stand out for their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and the intimate, personal experience.

  • Considering the cost and logistical simplicity of courthouse weddings, it becomes clear why couples are choosing this path.

Recent years have seen a significant increase in the popularity of courthouse weddings, a compelling alternative to traditional ceremonies. This shift towards simplicity isn't just about taste, it's also practical for couples who want to celebrate their love without the hefty price tag and extensive planning. Considering the cost and logistical simplicity of courthouse weddings, it becomes clear why couples are choosing this path.

Courthouse weddings stand out for their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and intimate, personal experience.

Understanding Courthouse Wedding Costs

The total cost for a courthouse wedding can range from as low as $100 to $200 (for the most basic ceremony with minimal extras) to $1,000 to $2,000+ if you opt for professional photography, special attire, rings, and a modest celebration afterward.

Courthouse weddings are a cost-effective alternative to traditional weddings, emphasizing simplicity and intimacy. The bottom line cost can vary significantly based on location, choices, and optional extras, but here's a general overview:

  • Marriage License Fee: $25 to $100+
  • Officiant Fee: Often included in the license fee; otherwise, it can range from $50 to $100.
  • Witnesses, Rings, and Attire: These costs vary widely depending on personal choices. Witnesses might only require a small thank-you gift if they're friends or family, while rings and attire can range from minimal to several hundred dollars depending on taste and preference.
  • Photography: Optional and can range from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars for professional services.
  • Celebration: Varies widely; a simple meal might cost $100 to $500, while a small reception could run higher.

Courthouse Wedding Costs Breakdown

Basic Fees

The marriage license fee is the foundational cost of any courthouse wedding, which varies significantly across different jurisdictions. Typically, these fees range from $50 to $100, but couples need to research the specific costs within their local area. Additionally, some states impose a mandatory waiting period between obtaining the license and the actual ceremony, ranging from 24 hours to a few days. This waiting period doesn't add to the cost but is a critical factor in planning the timeline of the courthouse wedding.

Ceremony Costs

The ceremony incurs certain fees, primarily for the officiant who legally solemnizes the marriage. While some courthouses include the officiant's fee in the marriage license cost, others may charge separately for the ceremony. These fees are generally modest, often between $25 and $75, making the ceremony an affordable option for many couples. The courthouse may also have specific rules about the ceremony, including the number of guests allowed, which can influence the overall experience but not significantly affect the cost.

Additional Expenses

Beyond the basic and ceremony fees, couples may opt for additional elements to personalize their day. Rings, attire, and photography are common extras that vary widely in cost depending on preferences and budget. While some couples choose simple bands and wear their own attire, others may invest in custom rings or hire a professional photographer to capture the moment. These expenses are optional and offer flexibility to adjust the overall cost according to individual priorities and financial situations.

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Step-by-Step Guide to Planning a Courthouse Wedding

Planning a courthouse wedding involves a straightforward yet important series of steps to ensure everything goes smoothly on your special day. Here's a step-by-step guide to navigate the process:

1. Legal Requirements

The first step is thoroughly researching and understanding the legal requirements for marriage in your jurisdiction. This includes knowing the age requirements, any necessary waiting periods after obtaining your marriage license, and specific documentation you might need to provide. Each state or country can have different rules, so it's crucial to check with your local marriage bureau or courthouse for accurate information.

2. Setting a Date

Once you're familiar with the legal requirements, the next step is to choose and book your wedding date at the courthouse. Availability can vary widely, with some courthouses offering walk-in ceremonies and others requiring appointments. It's advisable to contact the courthouse well in advance to secure your preferred date, especially if you're aiming for a popular time or date.

3. Witnesses and Guests

Understand the courthouse's rules regarding witnesses and guests. Most jurisdictions require at least one or two witnesses present during the ceremony. Additionally, there might be limitations on the number of guests you can bring, often due to space constraints in the ceremony room. Confirm these details early to plan your guest list accordingly.

4. Preparing Your Documents

Prepare all necessary documents to bring on your wedding day. Typically, this includes your marriage license, valid photo IDs for both partners, and possibly birth certificates or divorce decrees if applicable. Double-check with the courthouse for a comprehensive list to ensure you have everything needed.

 5. The Ceremony

Finally, know what to expect during the courthouse wedding ceremony. While ceremonies at the courthouse are generally brief, lasting about 15-30 minutes, they are meaningful and legally binding. The officiant will lead you through your vows, the exchange of rings if you choose to do so, and pronounce you married. Some courthouses allow for some personalization, so ask in advance if you can bring your vows or if there are other ways to make your ceremony feel more personal.

Following these steps, you can plan a memorable and stress-free courthouse wedding that focuses on the love and commitment between you and your partner.

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Additional Costs to Consider

While courthouse weddings are notably cost-effective, couples should consider additional expenses that might arise, particularly related to post-ceremony celebrations and logistics for those marrying away from their local area.

Post-Ceremony Celebration: Many couples choose to celebrate their union after the official courthouse ceremony. Options range from a simple meal at a favorite restaurant to a small gathering with close family and friends. The cost can vary widely based on the venue, number of guests, and type of celebration, but planning a modest celebration can keep expenses low while still honoring the special occasion.

Travel and Accommodation: For couples opting for a courthouse wedding in a location different from where they reside, travel and accommodation costs must be considered. These expenses depend on the distance, mode of transportation, and the standard of accommodation chosen. Planning and booking in advance can help mitigate these costs, making the courthouse wedding still a financially savvy option.

Courthouse Weddings Vs. Traditional Weddings

Aspect Courthouse Weddings Traditional Weddings
Cost Comparison Typically, it ranges from a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars, covering the marriage license, ceremony fees, and any small, additional expenses like attire or rings. Even with a modest post-ceremony celebration, costs remain significantly lower than traditional weddings. It can easily range from $20,000 to $30,000 or more, encompassing venue rental, catering, decorations, attire, entertainment, and photography, among other expenses. The scale and luxury of the event can drive costs even higher.
Time and Stress Planning can be as quick as a few weeks to a few months, primarily involving legal paperwork and minimal logistical arrangements. The simplicity of courthouse weddings significantly reduces stress, with a focus on the marriage itself rather than the event details. Requires months to years of planning, involving extensive coordination with vendors, venues, and guests. The complexity and scale of the event can contribute to high-stress levels, with significant time investment in ensuring every detail is perfect.

This table highlights the stark contrasts between courthouses and traditional weddings regarding cost and the time and stress involved in planning. Courthouse weddings offer a streamlined, budget-friendly alternative that focuses on the essence of marital commitment. In contrast, with their grandeur and complexity, traditional weddings demand a significant investment of resources and energy.

Tips for a Memorable Courthouse Wedding

Personalizing Your Day:

  • Vows: Write your vows to add a deeply personal touch to the ceremony, making the moment yours.
  • Attire: Choose outfits that reflect your style and the significance of the day, whether formal wear, casual chic, or anything in between.
  • Photography: Hire a professional photographer for a short session before or after the ceremony to capture the special moments. Even a brief professional photo shoot can yield beautiful memories.

Legal Considerations:

  • Double-check the documentation required for your courthouse wedding well in advance. This includes identification, previous marriage documents, and the marriage license application.
  • Understand the legalities of your marriage, especially if you're from different states or countries. Ensure all paperwork is for your marriage to be recognized legally everywhere.


Courthouse weddings stand out for their simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and intimate, personal experience. They strip away the complexities and expenses of traditional weddings, allowing couples to focus on the essence of their commitment to each other. As you plan your special day, remember that the most important aspect is the love you share and the future you're building together. Let this guide you in making your courthouse wedding a deeply meaningful celebration.


What is a courthouse wedding?

A courthouse wedding is a legal marriage ceremony performed in a courthouse or city hall, presided over by a legal official such as a judge or a court clerk. It typically involves a simple and quick ceremony with a small number of guests.

How much does a courthouse wedding cost?

The cost of a courthouse wedding varies by location but generally includes the fee for the marriage license and a small ceremony fee. Prices can range from $50 to $200, making it a cost-effective option for many couples.

What documents do we need for a courthouse wedding?

You'll need government-issued photo ID, birth certificates, and possibly additional documents if previously married (like a divorce decree or death certificate). Requirements vary by jurisdiction, so check with your local courthouse.

Is a courthouse wedding legally recognized?

Yes, a courthouse wedding is a legally binding marriage recognized in all jurisdictions, provided all legal documents are correctly filed and the ceremony is conducted by an authorized official.

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