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Liz
Just Said Yes August 2021

Civil Ceremony First and Celebratory Ceremony Later

Liz, on June 8, 2021 at 11:30 PM Posted in Wedding Ceremony 1 18
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Hi! My fiancé and I want to have a quick civil ceremony and then save up for a formal wedding maybe in a year or so. What are your experiences’ in getting married at a courthouse first? I get a little confused because after getting the marriage license, you have to get married within 90 days (or whatever the time period it is). How would this work in terms of doing the celebratory ceremony within a year or so?

18 Comments

Latest activity by Theadra, on June 11, 2021 at 12:35 PM
  • Michelle
    Rockstar December 2022
    Michelle ·
    • Flag

    Is there a reason you don’t want to invite anyone to the ceremony?

    As far as the license is concerned, it applies only to the legal part (the courthouse ceremony you are wanting which IS a wedding). Anything held afterwards is a renewal of vows unless there is a divorce in between.

    Generally people who marry in the courthouse consider that their wedding, which again it is, and do not have any additional ceremony or celebration afterwards.

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  • Hannah
    Master July 2019
    Hannah ·
    • Flag
    The civil ceremony would be your legal ceremony, which is what you need the marriage license for. Anything after the fact would not require any sort of registered officiant or marriage license, as you can only get legally married once. The celebratory ceremony would be a symbolic one.
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  • Kristen
    Beginner November 2021
    Kristen ·
    • Flag

    Hi Liz! We are literally doing the EXACT same thing. Here is what we are finding (and keep in mind, each state has its own laws/fees/etc).

    -getting a license is just for your LEGAL ceremony; once you are "legally" married, you no longer need the license - you are married at that point (your officiant will sign the license). Your later ceremony has only symbolic meaning

    -we had to make an appointment to get a license. There were several items we were told to bring, including: my fiance's late wife's death certificate, an official copy of my divorce decree, photo ID, $60 cash. The license will be good after processing which takes 3 days. We MUST get married in this state (Pennsylvania), and it is good for 60 days (these rules may vary from state to state)

    -our courthouse does NOT perform weddings at this time. Some county courthouses may, but ours doesn't (might be a COVID thing)

    -we were given several names of people who MIGHT perform a civil ceremony, which is how we found an officiant

    -there WILL be a fee, our officiant is charging $60. She was very flexible with us, agreeing to meet us where we wanted when we wanted (we chose a Friday afternoon)

    -she stated we don't need witnesses which was a way we could get around choosing one couple over another to witness our vows

    I hope this helps! We are over the moon about our upcoming wedding (June 25, yikes!!!). Best wishes to you and your intended!

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  • Kari
    Master May 2020
    Kari ·
    • Flag

    Your courthouse wedding/civil ceremony would be your legal ceremony, at which you would become officially, legally married. You can do whatever you want after to celebrate your marriage, including having a wedding ceremony all over again, but it would not be a legally binding one.

    I also 100% disagree with a legal marriage being the same as a wedding, and needing to call whatever you do after a vow renewal or some other BS. You can get married (sign papers at the courthouse and change your legal status) now and have a wedding (the celebration, ceremony, and ritual that traditionally honor the union of two people) later. Marriage and a wedding are NOT the same. Its the difference between paperwork and a party.

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  • Courtney
    Expert September 2022
    Courtney ·
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    I agree for the most part, but the problem with saying that getting married in the courthouse isn't a wedding diminishes everyone who has chosen that as their path.

    To all of the LGBTQ+ community that had to fight tooth and nail just for the right to be married in a courthouse, saying it's not a real wedding or whatever is just straight rude. That's why so many of us push that it is your wedding day. The celebration you have after is still a celebration of your love, but it's a renewal, because you've already made those vows and promises and have been living that life for a year.

    To OP, if you want to save and have a big wedding in a year, save and have a bigger one in a year. You should only get married in the courthouse now if you need to for legal/medical reasons, otherwise I really don't understand the harm in waiting. You've waited this long to get engaged, what's another year or so to get married? If you can't wait, it's a celebration of marriage/vow renewal in a years time.

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  • Kari
    Master May 2020
    Kari ·
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    That is not the case at all. In fact its exactly the opposite. The couple defines what "wedding" means to them. Many people have courthouse ceremonies and consider it their wedding. But many people also legally marry first and then have a wedding later. To tell someone who had to marry a certain way that was not what they wanted is the only "wedding" they get is more de-legitimizing and de-humanizing then allowing them to define wedding in a way that feels significant and meaningful to them. Marriage is a legal thing, a wedding is a celebration, and the couple gets to define what that celebration looks like.

    Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner's wedding in France wasn't considered a vow renewal just because the couple legally tied the knot in Vegas earlier. Justin and Hailey Bieber married in New York and then had a wedding in South Carolina a year later. Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra had both an American wedding and a traditional Indian wedding, as do many other couples who have strong ties to their heritage and ethnic culture. Couples who have overseas weddings often legally marry in the USA before or after to simply the process, and couples who want a special person to perform their ceremony sometimes legally marry in the courthouse with a legal officiant days before their wedding ceremonies happen. In none of those cases is the event that happens second not considered a wedding just because a legal change of marital status happened on an earlier date.

    Telling a couple that legally ties the knot in a courthouse that the celebration they have afterward is not a wedding, its only a "vow renewal" is SO FREAKING DISCRIMINATORY if that couple is unable (for whatever reason) to marry in the way they wanted. It doesn't mean that couples cannot choose to have courthouse weddings, it just means that couples who want a different type of celebration and end up legally marrying in the courthouse have the same right to call whatever celebration happens after their "wedding"; saying otherwise essentially limits weddings to those with rich, white, monoracial, cishet privilege throughout various parts in history. Limiting "wedding" to legal marriage would also delegitimize those who ceremoniously committed their lives to one another before their marriages were legally recognized, like slave couples, inter-racial couples, and LGBTQIA couples from centuries and decades ago.

    People just need to stop telling people they can't have a "wedding" if it doesn't happen at the exact same moment a legal status change occurs. I would never tell a transperson that their chosen name isn't their "real" name or their preferred pronouns or gender identity aren't legitimate until their legal ID is changed.

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  • Lauren
    Beginner May 2022
    Lauren ·
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    My husband and I are doing the same thing! We got married with a couple friends at our local courthouse and will still be having a wedding celebration ceremony in 2022. We did this mainly for financial reasons, but also were so excited to be married we didn't want to wait any longer. Basically, we had our ceremony and got legally married. Then in 2022, we will just have a fun ceremony to celebrate with family.
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  • Courtney
    Expert September 2022
    Courtney ·
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    Kari, I 100% understand what you're saying and where you're coming from. I would agree to an extent, that yes. It's up to the couple how they view it in their minds. I get so frustrated when I hear people over and over say 'Oh we got married in the courthouse but we're having a real wedding in a year'. It's diminishing and hurtful to those who chose not to throw the large extravagant party.

    Basically what I'm getting at is just being careful in how you say it. If you want to say we're having a wedding celebration x time after you get married, fine. But don't emphasize that it's your real wedding.

    It might just be semantics, but to someone else it can be devastatingly hurtful.

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  • Teresa
    Dedicated July 2021
    Teresa ·
    • Flag
    We married for insurance purposes on November 2019 through court. We already had the big wedding set but I needed major surgery and my insurance sucked. We're still having the big wedding. Just a word of advice, make sure you let guest know you're already married but your having a big celebration with ceremony to celebrate with them.
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  • C
    Dedicated September 2021
    Conny ·
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    I agree 100%. We had a legal ceremony first bc my fiancé was deploying. It was legally binding yes and recognized but none of our family were in attendance. Fast forward, we are doing an actual wedding in September this year informs of our closest friends and family. It will also be ordained by a rabbi and priest since religion and faith is so important to us. To me, that is our wedding. The legal ceremony was necessary at the time due to war but we really didn’t get to celebrate in the way we’d like due to time constraints.
    I do find it VERY offensive when people assume and IMPOSE that because you had a legal ceremony you aren’t entitled to a wedding. It’s so offensive. Especially if you have the dream of wearing the white dress, doing the whole nine yards but really can’t in the current moment for whatever reason. People are SO insensitive !
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  • Mrs.a
    Master October 2021
    Mrs.a ·
    • Flag
    These responses…
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    tenor.gif
    It’s a wedding if that’s what you consider it to be. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Legally the marriage license would be filed when you in fact get married at the courthouse. I hope that helps a little bit!

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  • H
    Devoted May 2023
    Heather ·
    • Flag
    Just wanted to add that not all couples who go to the courthouse consider their marriage ceremony a "wedding" either, and not just the ones who are choosing to have the big celebration later. A lot of couples go to the courthouse specifically because they "don't want a wedding", so it's a little weird to insist they did actually have a wedding despite their wishes. I agree with PP that it's whatever the couple decides it is.
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  • Michelle
    Rockstar December 2022
    Michelle ·
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    Agree with this. Calling a court house ceremony *not* a wedding discounts and excludes anyone who chose that route for their personal reasons.


    Not everyone wants a big wedding and can’t justify the expense of a big party or maybe they don’t want to celebrate with relatives but others are pressuring them. There are countless reasons someone chooses a courthouse wedding and they consider that their wedding, whether someone else sees it as valid or not.

    I have attended a few of these post celebrations as a guest that were presented as the actual legal ceremony but guests later found out that the couples had been married before that date and were not happy to be deceived.

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  • Kari
    Master May 2020
    Kari ·
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    Yes I agree!

    We are a couple whose wedding was impacted by Covid. We ended up eloping on our original date because my mom was diagnosed with cancer just 10 days before but it wasn't a very celebratory or joyful event. My in-laws wouldn't even hug us they were so fearful of Covid, but we felt that if we postponed my mom might not be there to see it. Gatherings were limited to 10 people so it was just us, our parents, our dog (he didn't count towards our quota), and a few close friends standing around while we said rushed vows, exchanged rings, and signed papers while dressed in fancy clothes. No dinner, no dancing, no real celebration. It wasn't at all what we wanted, but we did what we could given the circumstances. That event absolutely means something to me, but it has always felt unfinished.

    We are having our wedding celebration this weekend, with people we love in attendance, food and drinks, a beautiful venue, flowers, and dancing and celebration. It is very much our "wedding" even though we have been legally married for a year now. I find it incredibly insulting when people on here say you can't have a wedding once you are legally married, and if I ever met a person in person who told us we were having a "vow renewal" and not a wedding, I'd most certainly let them know what I think of them in less than delicate terms.
    I've never referred to either event as our "real" wedding because it would imply the other event was or will be "fake" which is not true at all. They are different events, forced to be two separate things instead of one singular one like we wanted, but they are both significant and meaningful to us. Last year, we got married, and this year, we get to finally have our wedding!

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  • JM Sunshine
    JM Sunshine ·
    • Flag
    I guess in perspective it's like having a birthday on a Wednesday but wanting to celebrate/party on a Saturday instead. Wednesday is your legal date of birth but everyone is still eager to come together and celebrate if the party is another day.
    • Reply
  • V
    Devoted August 2020
    Valerie ·
    • Flag
    We did this and not because of the pandemic but because we wanted to! We filed for the marriage license and had to get married within 30 days. Then the second time around the ceremony is religious it’s kinda like a vow renewal to some people legally you’re already married
    • Reply
  • C
    Dedicated September 2021
    Conny ·
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    View Quoted Comment
    I’ve had a few people push this narrative and even assume I’ve already taken my FH last name and basically start limping you as a unit bc I shared we did our legal ceremony. It’s so offensive. We decided our wedding anniversary will be the date we celebrate with our families and friends! Each couple is entitled to mentally ‘transition’ according to what they feel is complete . In your case , the big wedding! It’s unfair for people to basically say oh you’re just doing a vow renewal! It’s not a wedding. Smh. What I would advice couples who want to do both is to keep the legal ceremony a secret between the two of you and those that matter to you. This helps avoid all the judgements and mean remarks people have on what you define as your special day!
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  • Theadra
    Devoted June 2021
    Theadra ·
    • Flag

    Hubby and I went to the courthouse back in 2018 for insurance reasons and it felt right at the time as well. Yes , we have been legally married but I never viewed it as our wedding what so ever. We never exchanged rings or said vows of any sort . It never felt official in my eyes. Now 3 years later , we are doing the official celebration with close friends and family. I have never heard of the 90 day thing. Unless its by the state , I def will check it out.

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