Courthouse Wedding Vs.Traditional Wedding: Pros & Cons

Jennifer Skulski

Published: Nov 16, 2021

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Weddings are wonderful events, brimming with love, celebration, and enough partying to leave you with a headache the next morning. While they’re unforgettable celebrations of two peoples’ love for one another, weddings also bring with them a memorable price tag. 

With the costs of weddings rising from year to year, many couples are trying to plan for a wedding on a budget, and some are even wondering whether it’s worth having a traditional one. But what’s the alternative to a traditional wedding? 

The Rise Of Courthouse And Micro-Weddings

micro-weddings

Many couples are opting for micro-weddings and other low-key takes on the traditional wedding planning process. This has become increasingly popular since the start of the Covid-19 Pandemic, as many family and friends have been unable to attend due to travel restrictions. Luckily, with technology, these guests can attend virtually to still witness the union. 

If a majority of your friends and family cannot attend your wedding ceremony safely, and you don’t want to live-stream your ceremony, another great way to virtually stay connected is to share your wedding hashtag within your engagement announcement. This way, your loved ones can get the party started early by sharing all of their favorite memories of you as a couple prior to whatever ceremony you choose. 

If you and your partner want something different than a traditional ceremony, there are numerous alternatives to consider, but the most reliable, effective method is the courthouse wedding. It might be a great alternative, but what’s the difference between a courthouse wedding and a traditional wedding? Let’s analyze both options!

Courthouse Vs. Traditional Wedding Pricing 

Courthouse Wedding Pricing 

The traditional wedding is a dream for many people. It’s the picturesque event portrayed in film, fairy tales, and books: surrounded by loved ones, looking into the eyes of your to-be spouse, a lifetime of romance ahead of you, and an excellent celebration soon to come. 

It’s a night that many will remember for the rest of their lives, cherishing it at the sheer thought. But it also has a serious downside: weddings are an expensive affair. This is why you may wish to opt for a courthouse wedding instead.

courthouse wedding pricing

Average Courthouse Wedding Price

The price of your courthouse wedding will largely depend upon your location. Different states and even different counties within your state will charge different rates for the marriage license fee. On average, this price will be around $50. However, marriage license fees can range from $18 to $115.

Aside from the cost of your marriage license, some courthouses may charge additional administrative or other fees. While any additional fees and the marriage license fee are just a drop of water in comparison to the thousands of dollars that traditional weddings cost, even with courthouse weddings, you may still want to consider having a few vendors for your civil nuptials.

Vendors and services to consider include a photographer to capture your lovely day, catering for you, your spouse, and the few guests you want as witnesses, a florist if you want wedding flowers, and a stylist for attire, hair, and makeup if you so choose.

Let’s breakdown the average cost of these additional services for your courthouse wedding:

  • Photographer: $1,000 (or search for local talent with an hourly rate)
  • Catering (for 10 people or less): $300+
  • Florist (for bridal bouquet & boutonniere): $100
  • Wedding Attire, Hair, & Makeup: $400+

While you can go as simple or as elaborate as you’d like, your courthouse wedding can cost anywhere between $50 for a simple marriage license to $2,000 or more if you’re interested in additional vendors and services or a larger reception to celebrate.

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Traditional Wedding Pricing

If you’re leaning towards going the traditional route, know that while it’s a costly venture, it’s also a memorable one. You and your spouse will have to discuss your options and your priorities before making a decision. You’ll want to make sure you’re comfortable with what you want and what you’re willing to spend. Creating a budget to stand by while planning your big day will be crucial as you nail down all the little details. As with most things in life, a wise wedding planner will always tell you to prepare for the unexpected – so make sure you save an emergency fund within the budget to handle any last-minute cancellations or wedding day mishaps. 

traditional wedding photo

Average Traditional Wedding Cost

The expectations bound into weddings lead to these celebrations becoming full-on formal events, leaving you with an itemized bill that rivals the length of a CVS receipt. The average cost of a wedding in 2019 was $38,700, with $28,000 being spent on just the ceremony/reception. The price increases from the church to the reception center, the cake to the meals, the bar tab to the DJ, the photographer to the decorations, the engagement ring to both your wedding bands, all up to the honeymoon.

In 2020, the average cost per guest was $244. This includes the cost you’ll be spending on your guests for food, drink, cake, the venue, decor, invitations, and wedding favors. With this figure in mind, the cost of traditional weddings largely depends upon the number of guests couples choose to invite.

Aside from the costs of the reception and the cost per guest, let’s breakdown the average cost of traditional wedding vendors and services:

  • Engagement Ring: $5,900
  • Wedding Dress: $1,600
  • Photographer/ Videographer: $4,200 (for both)
  • Florist: $2,000
  • Rehearsal Dinner: $1,900
  • Hiring a Wedding Planner: $1,500

Courthouse Wedding Vs. Traditional Planning

traditional wedding planning

The Simplicity Of A Courthouse Wedding  

Cut the costs and fanfare and make it simple! The courthouse wedding is the ideal alternative to the traditional wedding. Courthouse weddings are often referred to as a ‘civil ceremony’ or ‘civil wedding’ because they’re ordained by a government official or civil servant and skip over any religious aspect of the ceremony. 

Skipping over any religion-based traditions makes the ceremony very quick, often ending within 10 minutes from start to finish. If a religious ceremony is important to you and your partner, it may be best to skip the courthouse. On the other hand, keeping the marriage as a secular courthouse union is a perfect way to avoid any religious arguments between your two families. That said, you can still retain personal aspects to your civil ceremony – such as by writing your own vows, including your favorite flowers, customizing wedding bands, and of course, the timeless tradition of wearing something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue! 

As with traditional weddings, a courthouse wedding requires you to adhere to your state’s requirements to be recognized as a legal union. You should check your state’s specific requirements, but usually, all you’ll need is a marriage license, witnesses, and someone to officiate your marriage. 

However, while a much simpler event, you still need to put work into preparing. If you’re curious about the steps to take for a courthouse wedding, make sure to keep reading! 

Steps Of Planning A Courthouse Wedding

courthouse wedding photo

1. Choose A Location

First, you and your partner will need to decide where you want your courthouse wedding to take place. This is important because different locations will have different fees, different requirements, and different rules for how to schedule and plan your courthouse wedding.

2. Secure Marriage License Requirements 

You’ll need to get your marriage license ahead of time. That includes heading to the courthouse with the necessary paperwork, such as a driver’s license or state ID, birth certificate, social security number card, and/or a passport. 

3. Apply For A Marriage License

Once you’ve gathered the proper paperwork, you’ll both need to be present to hand off all of the necessary documents at the county clerk’s office. To officially apply for your marriage license, you’ll then need to sign some forms and pay the proper fees. There’s typically a waiting period of one to three days from when you apply for your license to when it’s officially issued.

4. Make An Appointment Ahead Of Time

Next, you’ll have to make an appointment. This will involve contacting the courthouse where you plan on being married in advance and checking to see when they have availability to schedule you in. Once you have your appointment set, you’ll have to begin taking some other things into consideration.

5. Capture The Moment

Now, you’ll have to ask yourself whether you want to memorialize the event with film and/or photographs. If so, you’ll want to hire a professional photographer or videographer ahead of time to capture your quiet, intimate ceremony.

6. Invite Your Closest Family And Friends

You’ll need to have witnesses that are over the age of 18 who can verify that the ceremony took place. Inviting your closest family and friends is a good place to start. Having your immediate family and a few good friends there for you can be a wonderful way to feel loved and supported during your ceremony while still keeping your celebration an intimate one.

7. Go Big On The Reception

Once your courthouse wedding is official, making you and your partner legally married, you’ll naturally want to celebrate. Be sure to plan out your reception and don’t be afraid to make it big. After all, you saved a considerable amount of money opting for a courthouse wedding, now’s your chance to splurge a bit on the celebration if you so desire. 

You can still create an intimate environment with your closest family and friends while celebrating with some delicious food, drinks, and treats at a venue, restaurant, or even your own backyard.

Planning A Traditional Wedding

traditional wedding ceremony

1. Hire A Wedding Planner

Planning a traditional wedding can be an overwhelming undertaking. To make things easier and to help you and your partner stay organized, it’s a great first step to start by hiring a wedding planner. Wedding planners can help turn your dreams into a reality while also introducing you to the connections you need in terms of vendors and services.

2. Plan Out Your Budget

Before you dive right into things, you’ll want to start planning out your wedding budget. By outlining how much you plan to spend and how much you’ll allocate for every given service, you’ll have a better idea of how to actually begin planning a reasonable wedding.

3. Decide On Your Guest List & Wedding Party

Part of planning out your budget and deciding on a venue will largely depend upon the size of the wedding you plan on having. It’s best to first discuss the range you and your partner are most comfortable with inviting. From there, narrow down your list until both you and your partner agree. Now is also a great time to start planning out who you’d like in your wedding party and ask those individuals to be your bridesmaids and groomsmen.

4. Pick The Time And Place, Then Book Your Vendors

Deciding where and when you want your wedding to be is an important step in the planning process. However, don’t be afraid to plan a long engagement, either. Planning a wedding can be a lengthy process, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time to plan out the wedding you’ve always dreamed of. Once you’ve decided on your date, it’s even more important to start booking your vendors as renting out and scheduling venues, caterers, and other services may book up quickly. 

5. Decide On Your Theme, Decor, And Details

This part of the planning process is both fun yet time-consuming. Now is your chance to settle on a wedding theme and plan out the overall aesthetic and style you wish your ceremony and reception to have. Start ordering or organizing your floral arrangements, table centerpieces, wedding cake design, venue decor, wedding signs, wedding hashtags, wedding favors, and everything in between.

6. Choose Your Wedding Day Outfit

Wedding dress shopping is a pivotal moment in many future brides’ lives. Enjoy the moment with your mom, maid of honor, or other close friends and decide on your dress, shoes, accessories, and plan out your wedding day hairstyle. For the grooms, you’ll have to get fitted for your suit and decide on your own style with shoes, ties, bowties, cufflinks, and other accessories.

7. Finalize Your Plans & Prepare For Setup

Once all of your wedding details are thoroughly planned out, it’s time to put all the pieces together for your big day. This includes any preparations or setup that’s needed, whether that involves constructing a wedding arch, putting up tents, setting up speakers, music, or cameras, and placing your decorations throughout your venue. Once everything is properly set up, go celebrate and enjoy your wedding day!

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Can’t Make A Decision? Meet In The Middle 

If you and your spouse can’t settle on a single decision, find a way to meet in the middle. 

Just because some couples are spending thousands on lavish, Instagram-worthy weddings doesn’t mean you have to, too. Find a way to bridge your interests to make the ideal wedding for the two of you. 

Tips To Help You Choose Between A Traditional Or Courthouse Wedding

elopement photo

Visualize Your Wedding Day

When trying to decide which style of wedding is right for you and your partner, try to visualize yourselves celebrating with all ceremony options to see what really feels like you. In the first scenario, you can have the traditional wedding mixed with a low-key reception held afterward at your home. This way you’ll have the typical, traditional ceremony that meets the expectations of the ideal wedding. But you’ll now be able to keep things intimate and restrained once the ceremony is over, returning to your new home with family and friends in tow, joining together in a celebration that doesn’t require an extravagant wedding hall, decorations, music, or catered food. It could be just you, family, and friends enjoying freshly grilled food and mixed drinks or beer tapped from a keg. 

On the other hand, you could consider having a courthouse wedding, which is quick, intimate, and simple while pairing it with a raucous afterparty. The quiet nature of the courthouse wedding allows you to take care of business while leaving the majority of your energy to celebrate with family and friends. This might be the best option for some, especially those couples that aren’t interested in getting bogged down in the details and would rather have a fun, lighthearted experience to remember.

What’s More Important, The Wedding Or Honeymoon?

Another important factor to consider is how big you want to go on your honeymoon versus your wedding. Some couples prefer to have a courthouse wedding, have a small, quiet celebration, and keep the fanfare for the honeymoon. After all, it’s the two of you celebrating your love for one another, so why not go all out in showing your undying love for the other with the vacation of your dreams? 

Whether you’re a couple that wants to spend a week relaxing and basking in the white sandy beaches of the Caribbean or an adventurous couple that wants to explore and hike to Machu Picchu, saving up for your perfect honeymoon vacation will create memories to last a lifetime. Some honeymooners even utilize their own special honeymoon hashtag to collect and share the memories they’re making along the way! 

Courthouse Wedding Vs. Traditional

Whatever type of wedding you choose, you can make it exactly into your dream. Take the time to weigh your options and discuss what your perfect wedding looks like. You’re sure to have a memorable time with the right wedding rings and the right person, no matter the venue. And after is all said and done, you can announce your marriage with a fun, creative wedding hashtag on your social media accounts. 

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