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Planning a Civil Wedding Ceremony: Adding a Touch of Special

It's entirely possible to organize a civil ceremony while still leaving room for a traditional wedding celebration down the road.


An Adirondack Bride walks to her civil wedding ceremony in Lake Placid, NY - Adirondack Wedding photographer

Of course, we adore all the grandeur and flair—flowers, cakes, gowns—that typically accompany a traditional wedding. However, legally binding your union doesn't demand any of that. (And honestly, it's entirely optional!) To formally say "I do," all you truly need is a recognized officiant, a marriage license, and a couple of witnesses (though not obligatory in every state). A civil ceremony covers it all—and while we often associate it with a quick trip to city hall for just the two of you, it can unfold anywhere and take on any style you desire.

Just like in wedding planning, it's crucial to remember that your ceremony can be exactly what you envision. Whether it's a simple courthouse affair, an intimate gathering with close family, or a lavish event, it's entirely up to you. And even if your civil ceremony is smaller in scale, it doesn't diminish its significance. Whether it's an intimate affair with just the two of you or a small gathering with close family, treat it with the same significance as a grand wedding. Think about hiring a photographer, even if only for a short session, getting professional hair and makeup done, and maybe adding a bouquet for that extra touch of charm. Whether you're budgeting for the grand extravaganza, planning to wed before a significant life transition, or simply eager to make it official, here's your guide to having a civil ceremony now and throwing a lavish reception later. What Is a Civil Ceremony?

A civil ceremony is a secular, legal marriage ceremony officiated by a legal authority, often held at a city hall or other approved venue.

Your Guide to Planning a Civil Ceremony

  1. Do Your Research: Planning a civil ceremony involves more than just showing up at city hall with your IDs. Each state has its own regulations regarding marriage licenses, so it's essential to research beforehand. Look into the specific requirements, fees, and any waiting periods. Keep in mind that popular days like Thursdays and Fridays may have longer wait times at city halls. Additionally, check if witnesses are required for your ceremony.

  2. Choose an Officiant: The officiant for your civil ceremony will depend on the regulations of your state or county. Typically, it can be a justice of the peace, county clerk, notary public, judge, or magistrate. If you opt for a ceremony at city hall, an officiant will be provided for you.

  3. Decide Who to Invite: While a civil ceremony allows for guests, there are usually restrictions on the number of attendees permitted. Before extending invitations, check the capacity limitations at your chosen venue. Remember, witnesses are often required, so consider inviting close family or friends to fulfill this role. Having loved ones present can add a special touch to your ceremony. For a more meaningful civil ceremony, consider inviting immediate family members or close friends to share in the intimate celebration. Whether you choose a small gathering or include a few extra guests, this is a chance to celebrate with those nearest to your heart. When extending invitations, prioritize personalization. Sending personalized invitations adds a thoughtful touch to the occasion, making it more memorable. However, if time is limited, opt for phone calls or electronic invitations to ensure your loved ones can join in the joyous occasion.

  4. Plan Your Attire: The weddings that leave the deepest impression are invariably the most personal and an easy way to achieve this is through your attire. Infuse your civil ceremony with your personal touch by choosing outfits that mirror your unique style, whether they're brand new or selected from your current wardrobe. You can even go all out—think about wearing attire that's exceptionally remarkable (yes, even a wedding dress!) and treat yourself to professional hair and makeup services to ensure you radiate confidence and joy as you commemorate this significant milestone.

  5. Secure Key Vendors Consider hiring a photographer to capture the special moments of the day, as the civil ceremony is a significant part of your wedding story. Civil ceremonies hold immense significance and power due to their intimate nature. While couples may anticipate a straightforward process, they often find themselves moved by the emotional depth of the occasion, exchanging vows with only each other present. Documenting this moment is invaluable—you'll treasure the sincerity and purity of sharing this experience together.

Additionally, Having a photographer for the civil ceremony offers an additional advantage. It provides an opportunity for your photographer to establish a rapport with              you, fostering a closer and more relaxed atmosphere for the big day. This ensures that              your photographer can effortlessly capture the essence of your wedding day, allowing              you to fully savor the experience.


  1. Consider any additional items you'd like to have with you: A wedding bouquet or boutonnière are always nice touches, and certain locations might allow for additional floral arrangements. You may also want to incorporate elements like something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue to tie your civil ceremony to wedding tradition.

  2. Celebrate Your Official Union Congratulations, you're married! Commemorate the occasion in a way that feels special, whether it's with a Champagne toast and cupcakes for just the two of you, a family dinner at home, or short drive to a beautiful place. Spending time together is what matters!

             Then, take some time to savor the moment together—alone. Consider booking a room              at a nice hotel for the night or heading out of town for the weekend for an early              minimoon.


How to find a wedding photographer for my civil ceremony?


When planning a small wedding or civil ceremony and searching for a wedding photographer, it's essential to find one whose services align with your needs. However, if you're specifically looking for a photographer who only offers full-day services, you might encounter challenges since civil ceremonies typically require less coverage than traditional weddings.

Here are a few options you could consider when looking for a wedding photographer for 4, 3, or even 2 hours:


  1. Negotiate with the Photographer: Reach out to photographers who offer full-day services and inquire if they would be willing to accommodate a shorter coverage period for your civil ceremony. Some photographers might be flexible and open to customizing their packages to suit your requirements.

  2. Expand Your Search: While many photographers specialize in full-day coverage, there are others who may offer more flexible options or be willing to accommodate shorter events like civil ceremonies. Look for photographers who advertise customizable packages, are open to discussing your specific needs or click here for an Adirondack Wedding photographer that offers just that!

  3. Consider Additional Services: If you're unable to find a photographer who exclusively offers full-day services, you could explore hiring a photographer for the entire day and maximizing their coverage by incorporating other events or photo sessions, such as an engagement shoot or post-ceremony portraits.

  4. Hire Multiple Photographers: Another option is to hire multiple photographers for different parts of your wedding day. You could book a photographer for the full day and arrange for a second photographer or photography team to cover only the civil ceremony portion.

Ultimately, communication with potential photographers is key. Clearly express your needs and preferences, and don't hesitate to ask if they can accommodate your specific requirements or suggest alternative solutions.


How to Plan a Wedding Following a Civil Ceremony

By the time your wedding day arrives, you'll already be legally married, but that doesn't mean it can't be just as meaningful—especially since you're free from the usual rules! Here are a few ideas I adore:

Embrace the traditions you cherish and skip the ones you don't. Opt for a brief and heartfelt ceremony to symbolize your union. Make your entrance with your father, or enter together with your partner.

Personalize your vows and include readings that resonate with you. Since this part doesn't need to be legally binding (that's already taken care of), feel free to choose anyone you'd like to officiate—no need for online ordination. And don't worry about explaining the situation to your guests—they're there to celebrate your love story, which remains just as special regardless of the officiant's credentials. Expect tears of joy, registered officiant or not!

After your "first kiss," continue the celebration however you see fit! Now, the only decision left is which anniversary to commemorate...


Advantages of Opting for a Civil Ceremony


  1. Cost-Effective: Civil ceremonies often come with a smaller price tag, making them an attractive option for many couples. Without the expenses associated with religious ceremonies and elaborate receptions, the costs are significantly reduced. For couples eager to start their lives together without the lengthy planning process, a quick legal procedure can be a more appealing choice.

  2. Simplifies Religious Navigation: For interfaith couples, a civil ceremony can serve as a compromise, avoiding potential challenges in navigating the traditions of both religions. Similarly, non-religious couples may prefer to forgo a ceremony that doesn't align with their beliefs, opting instead for a civil ceremony that feels more authentic.

  3. Venue Flexibility: Unlike religious ceremonies, which often come with venue constraints, civil ceremonies offer more freedom in choosing locations. Couples dreaming of an outdoor wedding or unconventional settings may find civil ceremonies to be a better fit. This flexibility allows for greater creativity in designing the ceremony, catering to the preferences of the couple.

  4. Minimizes Family Conflict: Family dynamics can play a significant role in wedding planning decisions. A civil ceremony, with a limited number of guests, can help minimize potential family conflicts. By keeping the guest list small and intimate, couples can simplify the celebration, focusing on their commitment to each other without the added stress of managing complex family dynamics.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is the distinction between a civil union and a civil marriage? A civil union is a legally acknowledged partnership that is not classified as a marriage, while a civil marriage is a legal marriage conducted without a religious ceremony. While a civil marriage can be viewed as a type of civil union in terms of legal recognition, a civil union does not carry the same legal status as a marriage.

  2. How long does a civil marriage ceremony typically last? A civil marriage ceremony typically lasts between 10 to 15 minutes. The duration may vary depending on the content of the ceremony and any necessary paperwork or formalities that must be addressed beforehand.

  3. Is a civil ceremony equivalent to a wedding? For couples who opt out of a religious ceremony, a civil ceremony can serve as the official nuptial event, akin to a wedding ceremony. However, it's important to note that a civil ceremony is distinct from the wedding reception or celebratory gathering. Usually, the civil ceremony occurs on a separate day prior to any religious ceremonies or receptions.

  4. Will my civil marriage be accepted by my religious community? Civil marriages are typically not recognized by religious communities unless they are followed by a religious ceremony. However, it's advisable to consult with a religious leader for clarification. A religious marriage adheres to the doctrines, traditions, and regulations of a specific faith and requires the filing of a marriage license for legal recognition.

  5. Does the Catholic Church acknowledge civil marriages? In Catholic tradition, marriages conducted outside of a Catholic Church by Catholic individuals are not recognized. However, a civil marriage can be validated through a convalidation ceremony, transitioning it into a Catholic marriage that is formally acknowledged by the Catholic Church.




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