Planning a Civil Wedding Ceremony During Covid-19

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It’s been a wild and crazy year, but I see you couples not letting COVID ruin your wedding plans. So many of you have made the amazing choice to plan a civil ceremony during COVID-19. Hopefully this pandemic is coming to an end, but for those of you who just can’t wait any longer to say “I do”, then I’m going to give you some tips!

Now, planning a civil wedding ceremony can be stressful enough. Try planning one during the pandemic and s*&t gets crazy! So, first and foremost, I want you to take a giant deep breath in and release that bad boy, nice and slow. You’ve got this!

For those of you holding out for the big celebration, it will come and it will be amazing! 

For those of you making the hard decision to postpone or cancel your dream wedding and are opting for a smaller, private ceremony to say your vows, please hear me when I say that there will be just as much love and meaning crammed into your special day as there would have been with a guest list of 300.

Love trumps COVID, baby!

Bride stands in a floor length white lace dress a bouquet in hand. A groom stands a few steps away from her in a full dark suit with his hand stretched towards her moments before their civil wedding ceremony. A wedding Officiant stands a few feet a way, facing away from the camera and watching the bride and groom. They are all on a dirt path standing in front of some water and are surrounded by forest | Seattle Wedding Photographer, Seattle Elopement Photographer, Seattle Elopement Inspiration | chelseaabril.com

In this blog, we’ll get into the ins and outs of planning a civil ceremony during COVID-19. Since this may be the first introduction to a civil ceremony, let me clear up any confusion on what it actually is.

What is a Civil Ceremony?

The short answer is that a civil wedding service is essentially any non-religious (and legal) wedding ceremony that has an officiant overseeing the service, rather than a religious official, such as a priest. 

Many couples don’t realize it, but a religious ceremony is actually not legally binding in the US. In fact, even with your religious ceremony, you would still need to head to your city hall or courthouse (I advise checking ahead to see which applies to you). You then fill out your marriage license in order to make the whole thing legit. 

A civil ceremony, however, checks all the boxes. Plus, all you need to do is send in your marriage license afterwards, so it can be certified. Easy as pie, right?

A man and a woman embrace one another. The woman has her arms wrapped around the man's waist and he is cupping her chin with his left hand. The woman is in a simple tight fitting white dress and a flower crown sits on her dark hair. The ma is in dress pants and a white dress shirt that is rolled up to the elbows. He is wearing a lea. The photo is in black and white and it Is of a non traditional wedding couple | Hawaii Wedding Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Inspiration | chelseaabril.com

Why Plan A Civil Ceremony?

While we are definitely seeing an uptick in couples planning a civil ceremony during COVID-19, it isn’t something new. Civil ceremonies are actually a trend for more and more couples planning their weddings these days.

There are so many reasons why people prefer a civil ceremony rather than a religious one, with the biggest being their ease and flexibility.

For instance, if you and your partner in crime come from different religious backgrounds, a religious ceremony can be difficult and, in many cases, one of you would need to convert to the other’s religion.

If you want to give a nod to a specific cultural or religious tradition, such as adding in a handfasting or foot-washing ceremony, you may find it easier within a civil ceremony. Some religious officials even refuse to oversee any wedding ceremony that is not conducted within their place of worship, which means an outdoor wedding may not be possible unless you go with a civil officiant. 

There are countless reasons many couples are choosing to go with a civil ceremony. When it comes down to it, it’s all about YOUR preferences. Unless you plan to customize your ceremony (which IS possible during a civil shindig), your service will basically be the same as a religious one would be. The father can still walk the bride down the aisle, there can still be vows read, rings exchanged and that signature first kiss moment. 

A civil ceremony simply allows customization. You can have your preferred music played, your own vows read, and leave out any religious references (if you don’t want them), and so much more. 

Dreamed of having a flash mob dance that is an exact repeat of the Office Wedding for Jim and Pam? Well, my friend, a civil ceremony would even allow for that.

Basically a civil ceremony can be as extravagant or as minimalist as you would like it to be! If you don’t believe me, have a peek through my blog . You can check out some of the stellar civil ceremony weddings I have been blessed to cover over the years.

A bride and groom stand facing one another as they hold hands during their civil wedding ceremony. The bride is in a simple floor length white wedding dress with a long view and her hair tied into a dressy bun hairstyle. The groom is in a blue suit with brown dress shoes. Between the two you can see their officiant who wears beige slacks and a navy blue suit jacket and has a lea around his neck. The officiant is holding his speech. A bridesmaid in a floral floor length dress stands to the left of the bride and groom holding a bouquet and a groomsman stands to the right with his hands folded in front, and wearing blue dress pants and vest with a white shirt and brown shoes | Hawaii Wedding Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Inspiration | chelseaabril.com

Who can Officiate a Civil Ceremony?

A judge, justice of the peace, a county clerk, notary public or a magistrate can legally officiate a wedding. Planning a civil ceremony during Covid-19 may make it tricky to track down and book some of these peeps. Lucky for you, there may be one other option!

In the US it is also pretty easy to have a friend become ordained. That said, this isn’t always the case outside of the country. I urge you to do your research on this. Just because your friend can legally marry you in Seattle does not mean he can also go to Ontario for your Office themed Niagara wedding and still make it legal. (Yes, another Office reference — don’t @ me!)

Note that, like anything, during this pandemic it may be harder to book any of the above legal officials for your day. My suggestion is to book early and be willing to be a bit flexible!

A bride and groom take part in a civil ceremony in a wooded area.The groom is in a full. Burgundy suit and jacket and is standing barefoot while the bride has bright rpinkish red hair and has a lacy floor length white dress. The bride and groom hold hands and from between them you can see the officiant, also bare foot and in a full dark coloured suit. Two men and a German shepherd dog watch the couple from the left side and two women in a pink and lilac colored floor-length dress along with a man stand off to the right | | Seattle Wedding Photographer, Seattle Elopement Photographer, Seattle Elopement Inspiration, Civil Ceremony Wedding | chelseaabril.com

Getting Your Marriage License for a Civil Service

*Note: The process of obtaining your license and the requirements to get one, might be different based on where you reside. Please contact your local city hall or courthouse (or visit their website) for exact information based on your area.

Planning your civil ceremony during COVID-19 may require a lot of compromising and alterations. But, there is one thing you can’t forget! In order to make your wedding legal, you NEED to apply for a marriage license. Here in Seattle, couples must head to the courthouse. However in some other areas, like Canada, a marriage license can be applied for either online or through their offices. In other words, do your homework on this one and make sure you are heading to the right place.

In most locations you must be at least 18 to apply for a marriage license. (Though in some areas you can do so earlier with parental consent). Neither you or your partner can be currently married when applying for a marriage license. This means if you are ‘separated’ but not legally divorced, your application will be refused. In most locations, both you and your partner will need to present photo identification as proof of identity as well. 

A bride and groom stand outside a bright yellow shaved ice truck as they eat some flavoured shaved ice in a paper cone . the man has leaf lea around his neck, the bride is in a white wedding dress with her brown hair pulled back, The groom is in a grey suit | Hawaii Wedding Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Inspiration | chelseaabril.com

The cost of a marriage license changes drastically from place to place. Some are as low as $65, while others can reach $200. Many locations are refusing to accept cash at this time. I would advise calling ahead and asking about preferred forms of payment.

A marriage license does have an expiration date on it. If you have already picked yours up, then be sure to check the date it was issued. Make sure it will still be valid on the day of your civil ceremony. In most locations the license is good for three months after it was issued. However, this may differ depending on where you are getting married. 

DO NOT fill this license in yourself! In order for your marriage to be legal, information must be filled in by your Officiant. Simply make sure they have the information needed.

As the world continues to adjust to this new time, be prepared for delays across the board. This includes delays in receiving your marriage license. I suggest applying early and not waiting until the day of, just to be safe.

A simple but modern two tiered wedding cake with tropical flowers for decor | Seattle Wedding Photographer, Seattle Elopement Photographer, Seattle Elopement Inspiration, Civil Ceremony Wedding Ideas, Civil Ceremony Wedding Photographer | chelseaabril.com

Civil Ceremony Size During Covid-19

One of the biggest challenges of planning a civil ceremony during Covid-19 is probably the social distancing. The regulations regarding group gatherings and social distancing have been rapidly changing. It’s not only different from state to state, but also city to city and it’s changing on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. 

I’m no pro in the medical field—obviously—but I think it’s safe to say that continuing into the next few months we should just assume large group gathering won’t be allowed until next year at the earliest. If you are planning to hold a wedding in the near future, it is best to keep the guest list small.

If you are going to a courthouse to have your ceremony, check ahead and see what their max allowance is for group sizes. For the time being, some may only allow yourself, your partner and two witnesses. 

If the courthouse will not allow any larger group sizes, you might be able to book an Officiant to oversee your ceremony elsewhere. My suggestion for couples going this route, is to find a public space to host your ceremony. This way you are in open air. Guests can space themselves a safe distance from one another. You can still easily fit a group of 15 while still adhering to social distancing guidelines. 

A bride and groom embrace in a hug following their civil wedding ceremony. The bride is wearing a  white wedding dress and a long floor-length veil. The groom is in a light grey suit and jacket with brown shoes and a leaf lea around his neck. They are standing on a shoreline | Hawaii Wedding Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Inspiration | chelseaabril.com

Mindfulness During COVID-19 Civil Ceremonies

Your wedding is such a special and amazing day. I truly hope you enjoy every damn second of it, even if it’s not the wedding you originally planned. 

Before I send you off on your ‘marry’ way (Ha! See what I did there…), I want to bring up one other point that I haven’t seen covered as often as I think it should be.

This pandemic has been incredibly scary for so many people around the world. While we are very slowly taking steps back into the direction of normal, normal will look very different to all of us.

I urge you to be mindful during your wedding planning. Please understand there may be some people out there who are so important to you, but simply do not feel comfortable coming to your big day right now. Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with you or their love and admiration for you. It has everything to do with their perception of their safety and the safety of their family.

This entire ordeal has been traumatizing for some. It will take time for them to feel safe, especially in groups.

On the flip side of this, to all you couples who are receiving angry phone calls asking why your third cousin Jenny (who you haven’t seen in three years), isn’t on your 15-person guest list, I feel for you. Remember, YOU didn’t cause this pandemic, you are just trying to make the best out of a bad situation. More importantly, this is YOUR damn wedding and Jenny will get over it.  Just remind anyone who questions your reduced guest list, that you are simply doing your best to ensure those you care about are being kept safe.

You can also look into streaming options for your wedding ceremony. That way, everyone you love can watch from the safety of their home. Plus, you can have a recording to remember this incredible day.

A bride and groom stand facing one another hand in hand at their civil wedding ceremony. The bride is in a floor length white wedding dress with a long train and long white veil . The groom is in a greyish green suit. An officiant stand to their left with a mic in hand | Hawaii Wedding Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Photographer, Hawaii Elopement Inspiration, Hawaii Civil Ceremony Photographer, Civil Ceremony Wedding Ideas | chelseaabril.com

Last but not least, my Covid couples, you will have one heck of a story to tell for years to come about that time you got married in the middle of a freakin’ global pandemic.

*****Please Note: The links provided to help you with planning your civil ceremony during Covid-19 are for the Seattle/Washington area. Both the regulations for COVID-19 and the legal requirements and processes for civil ceremonies may be different in your area and I urge you to do the research for your location****

Bride and groom leaving courthouse after civil ceremony in Seattle. Bride and Groom wear masks. Bride has an off the shoulder wedding dress with her hair styled in an up-do bridal hair style. The groom has a blue chambray suit on with a light blue shirt and a black tie and black shoes | Seattle Wedding Photographer, Seattle Elopement Photographer, Seattle Elopement Inspiration | chelseaabril.com

No matter how small or where you choose to hold your wedding while the rest of this pandemic plays out, I’ll be right there ready to capture your happiest moments and give you memories you’ll look back on for the rest of your life! So let’s get started, visit my contact page or my Instagram to get started!

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