What to expect with a civil ceremony

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Posted: Monday, April 15, 2013 1:28 pm

Many people dream of a wedding in a church or synagogue before dozens of family members and friends, while there are others who prefer to forgo the fanfare of a large wedding ceremony and are content with a civil wedding instead.

Civil ceremonies are often a choice for couples who may have different religious beliefs or do not belong to a particular religious persuasion. In lieu of being presided over by a pastor, priest or rabbi, civil ceremonies are conducted by an authorized official, such as a judge or justice of the peace. The marriage also can be performed by a licensed wedding officiant. Depending on where a couple lives, mayors or even notary publics can solemnize a marriage. Pilots and ship captains also may be able to preside over the ceremony. Some states and provinces will allow anyone to solemnize a wedding, provided they have filed for a special permit for the day.

In terms of location, the most basic of civil ceremonies take place at the county courthouse, where paperwork is immediately filed. Ceremonies also occur at City Hall. Couples can choose to hire an officiant to go to another location to oversee the marriage ceremony. The latter is the more expensive option and will be based on the officiant's schedule.

The structure of a civil marriage is much more lax than those which follow the more traditional course. Rather than being required to wear a certain wardrobe or meet with the requirements of a particular church or other house of worship, couples often find flexibility with the civil route. Although some brides and grooms prefer to wear a tuxedo or suit and a wedding gown, it is not necessary to do so. There are many couples who have tied the knot in more casual clothing or even costumes.

In order to participate in a civil ceremony, couples must secure a marriage license. This is usually obtained by a county registrar or another officer of records where the couple lives. Regulations will vary as to the time period in which the ceremony can be done after the mariage license is received. Some licenses may be voided if the couple does not tie the knot within a few days of securing the license.

When the ceremony will take place is generally up to the couple and, if a member of the judiciary will be overseeing the wedding, the courthouse. Some courts require an appointment for the wedding, while others may have a walk-in policy. Determine these policies well in advance of the wedding day.

There is often a fee collected for the wedding ceremony in addition to what was paid for the marriage license. For those hiring a private officiant, the fee will be much higher than what a clerk of the court will cost. The couple will need to bring the marriage license and photo identification. Certain municipalities require witnesses, who will need to be present with their own photographic identification. These witnesses will be needed to sign the marriage certificate.

Because there is no firm tradition with civil ceremonies, couples may need to be more hands-on when it comes to executing the wedding. Here are some tips to consider.

* An officiant may not organize the wedding, meaning it will be up to the couple to choose vows, arrange where people will stand, request any clerical blessings, or include any other special elements.

* Some officiants enjoy presiding over weddings, while others see it as just a part of public duty. Couples can try to find an officiant who meets with their approval and will keep with the tone that is expected of the ceremony.

* For those adding personal vows, keep them brief and tailored to the occasion.

* Know how many people can attend the ceremony in advance. Couples should recognize that space could be limited and restricted to only a few people if the wedding is taking place at the courthouse.

* Arrange the venue for a party afterward. Couples may choose to record a video of the ceremony for playback at a reception to enable those who were not in attendance to be part of the special moment where the rings and vows were exchanged.

Civil ceremonies are advantageous to those who have factors that may make a religious ceremony unfavorable.

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