How to Get Married Without a Wedding

Story Amour
Written by Story Amour · Posted in Advice Last Updated March 18, 2023 · minute read
In This Article

    500 guests, 16 chocolate fountains, 4 marching bands, we get it, sometimes weddings can be a little overwhelming. So how do you go about getting married without actually having a wedding? Or at least a big celebration at that.

    If you are the kind of couple looking to keep things low-key, maybe reduce the amount of spending or have other complicated situations that you need to avoid, well we’ve put together the perfect guide for you.

    A cozy, snug and intimate ceremony can be just as romantic, just as inspirational and all round just as beautiful as a big celebration. Preferring this kind of experience is not something to be ashamed of. It’s your wedding day, celebrate it how you see fit.

    Our listed tips will talk you through all the legalities you need to tick off to register as married, as well as give insightful and thoughtful information about creating a dreamy, unique and affectionate wedding day.

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    How to get married without a wedding

    Can you be married without a wedding?

    How do you get married without a wedding? Can you even get married without a wedding? Well the answer is quite straightforward. Yes you absolutely can get married without a wedding, however, understanding what is actually meant by the term “wedding” is an important distinction to understand before we continue.

    Merriam-Webster defines wedding as “a marriage ceremony usually with its accompanying festivities” or, and importantly, “an act, process, or instance of joining in close association”. [1]

    With that in mind, there are two ways to look at the question. Can you legally get married without having a wedding ceremony? In addition, can you get married without having to go through all the legalities associated with weddings? Let’s take a look.

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    What are the legal requirements of marriage?

    In order to be legally married, you need to apply and receive a marriage license. The license must also be signed by an authorized person such as a minister or judge. While this is commonplace, the exact requirements may differ depending on your country or state.

    An example of this can be found in the differences between US and UK marriage requirements. Previously, in the UK, you only needed to be 16 years of age to get married (recently changed to 18) [2], whereas in Pennsylvania, 18 years is the minimum [3]. In fact, in the UK you do not technically need a marriage license to get married. You will receive the certificate at the marriage. However, you will need to go through an interview procedure before the ceremony itself.

    Quick tip: Hiring a wedding planner local to your area can improve the smoothness of the marriage procedure. They will usually have an in-depth knowledge of the requirements specific to your state/location.

    No, you do not need to have a wedding ceremony in order to be legally married. Provided you obtain a marriage license, and have it signed by an authorized person, you can be married without a ceremony. Moreover, if you do receive your marriage license and get it signed, there are many more unique ways to get married over the more traditional wedding ceremony. See below for some of the more unconventional ways to get married.

    Different types of wedding ceremony

    Many couples opt to participate in the legal requirements as well as a ceremony, however may still choose to skip the wedding celebration itself. There are many reasons that couples choose to do this. Whether it’s because they are getting married overseas, looking to save money or just have a preference for a different type of celebration, a simple ceremony with close family and friends can be a beautiful way to share your marriage vows.

    Below we have provided a list of the most common types of ceremonies. Depending on your situation, they may be best suited to yourself, whether skipping the party or planning to invite 500 of your nearest and dearest.

    Civil Ceremony

    Over the last few years, civil ceremonies have grown in popularity due to their simplistic, easy going nature. Rather than getting married in a church, couples can choose between courthouses, city halls and even many registered wedding venues.

    Out of the 1.9million weddings, around 815,000 of those were civil ceremonies [4]. Just a note, these statistics will be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    Allowing for a more laid back, intimate vibe, civil ceremonies are a perfect way to get married with close family and friends in attendance, without having to shell out on a big party.

    In order to arrange a civil ceremony you must obtain a marriage license. Once obtained you can book a venue and find a wedding officiant. You can apply for your marriage license by first checking you meet the requirements and filling out an application at your local county clerk’s office.

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    Religious Ceremony

    We’ve all witnessed a beautiful religious ceremony “We are gathered here today in the presence of God”, and to this day, they continue to be one of the most popular ways to get married.

    No matter your chosen religion, a religious ceremony can be a magnificent experience to start your journey as a married couple.

    Many religious ceremonies will include officiation by your local priest or vicar, hymns, readings and or rituals most commonly practiced by that particular belief system. It’s also common to sign a marriage book in order to be officially recognised under that particular church or institution.

    Religious marriages are commonly held in a church (and other religious buildings) and traditionally, you should be married at the church of your birth or home. Specific rules on when and where you can hold your religious ceremony, will depend on the church itself.

    According to the CDC, roughly 985,000 couples opted to get married in a religious setting, or in accordance with a religious belief system. As before, this number may be impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. New statistics are expected shortly.

    As with any type of legal marriage in the United States, you must first arrange a marriage license. Once arranged you can contact your local church (or religious institute) and enquire about availability for your ceremony. Once you have reserved your date, you may be expected to attend premarital counseling. Don’t be alarmed, this usually comes in the form of a few mini-sessions with the clergy. Here they will offer advice on everything from communication to money.

    In addition, most churches, like most wedding venues, will require a deposit in order to reserve the date.

    Cultural Ceremony

    Alongside a religious ceremony, or civil ceremony, many cultures will have their own traditions when getting married. From specific dress types to traditional foods, following your history and culture can be a sensational way to celebrate your marriage.

    Some examples of cultural ceremonies and traditions include the Scottish ceremony tradition of the Ceilidh dance, or the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. How about the Nigerian Money Dance? We would recommend doing research on specific cultural traditions before holding your ceremony.

    Related Reading: 10 Chinese Wedding Traditions You Need To Know

    Self-Solemnization

    One rather unique way to get married is through the practice of self-solemnization. In states such as Wisconsin and Washington D.C. you can legally get married without a marriage officiant.

    While this might not be most couples cup-of-tea, it’s a truly personal experience. It’s also a great way to save on budget, or to allow for a small wedding in general.

    This is only available in some states, so be sure to check the regulations in your local area.

    Unconventional ways to get married without a wedding

    Maybe you’ve found this article because you are more interested in hosting a small wedding, or maybe not even a wedding at all, but you still want to get the legalities sorted. Well, don’t worry, there are plenty of couples looking to tie-the-knot but keep the actual wedding celebrations to a minimum.

    If you are looking for a more low-key experience, or the alternative to the traditional big wedding, these options could be perfect for you.

    Micro Wedding

    Having a super small, micro wedding is a great way to get married without over committing on the wedding budget. Most couples opt for between 10 and 30 guests at a maximum, only inviting their nearest and dearest.

    One of the main reasons we love the micro wedding idea is that you can still enjoy everything you would normally expect at a full-sized wedding, just at a shrunken down cost. Want to get married at a church? No problem? Looking to book out a venue? Great. Reducing the number of guests, reduces one of your wedding’s biggest expenses, catering for hundreds of guests.

    Most couples will choose around 10-15 guests, and while 30 is not uncommon, having 10-15 is a great way to celebrate your marriage. We suggest either a small church ceremony or local registry, combined with booking out a private room at your favorite restaurant.

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    Destination Wedding

    While we don’t want this article to be focussed around budget saving, it is a common reason that couples are opting to forgo the wedding day for something more intimate.

    Well guess what? On average, destination weddings cost a whole lot less than local weddings. Why? Guests! Guests cost money, catering for food, booking hotels, hiring big enough venues. It’s a simple fact, the more guests you invite, the more money you will spend.

    So what is a destination wedding? Well a destination wedding is a wedding away from your local area. Whether that’s tying the knot in New York when you live in Los Angeles, or saying “I Do” on a beach in Barbados. There are so many options to choose from. Quick tip, beach weddings in the sun are the way to go!

    Elopement

    Somewhat of a buzzword in the wedding community. You’ve probably heard Cindy from accounting talking about Jessica in finance that’s going on of those “elopement thingies” rather than having a big wedding? No? Just us then.

    Simply put, an elopement is a wedding with just the couple, an officiant and maybe one or two super close friends/family to bear witness. Whether traveling overseas or just going on a domestic adventure, an elopement is an exciting way to get hitched. Just the two of you sharing a wonderful memory together.

    bride and groom saying vows during elopement

    Unique Wedding Ideas: Elopement

    Backyard or Homestay Wedding

    One alternative to a big wedding at a venue is a homestay or backyard party. Whether planning a cookout or just throwing a knees-up, it’s a fantastic way to save money while still celebrating your marriage with your closest friends and family.

    Think relaxed summer vibes, fun music and just a great time for everyone involved. You can even throw in a few toasts and speeches to make the night feel special.

    If you are going all night, why not introduce a theme like Hawaiian shirts and hire a photographer to document the evening. This way you will have some wonderful photos to look back on in years to come.

    Virtual Wedding

    Yes, we get it, it’s not 2020 anymore, Covid is a thing of the past (*aggressively crosses fingers while frantically touching wood*), but a virtual wedding is still an unique, alternative way to get married without a wedding.

    Save money on inviting hundreds of guests and just invite them all to an online gathering. They can watch you wonderful vows from the comfort of their own home.

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    Tips for getting married without a wedding

    Getting married without a wedding can be a potentially tricky affair. You want to keep all your guests happy while also enjoying a celebration that you really want. With that in mind, we asked the Story Amour team for some simple tips to ensure the process is relatively stress free.

    Get married quickly and quietly

    Do it quickly, do it quietly. It’s almost like ripping the band-aid off. There are no worries about what you are going to say to guests, or “excuses” that you really don’t have to make even though you will feel like you should. Just remember, it’s your day.

    Be quick and be decisive. Obtain your marriage license and plan your ceremony, whether private or with guests, quickly and without fuss. You can always opt to throw a party for everyone in the future.

    Get the legals sorted

    Before you even contemplate throwing a party or hosting a ceremony, research what legal requirements you need to get married. Once you have a clear understanding of necessary fulfillments, you can begin thinking about how you want your low-key affair to look.

    If you plan ahead and ensure your legal’s are all sorted, this will ensure no ugly surprises appear along the way, leaving you to party to your heart’s consent.

    Be upfront with your family and guests

    Telling close friends and family that you don’t plan to have a fully-blown wedding day, can be quite daunting. But it shouldn’t be. As long as you are upfront and open about everything, they should respect your wishes and be there when you need them to be.

    Furthermore, if you are planning one of the more unique experiences, such as a destination wedding or elopement, you need to give your invited guests plenty of advance notice. This will allow them time to book transportation and accommodation for your celebration.

    Keep it simple

    While you may kiss after you’ve said “I Do”, we also recommend a KISS, (keep it simple stupid) approach to planning your non-wedding wedding. The more simple your plans are, the less it will cost and the more stress free everything will be.

    Focus on arranging your ceremony or celebration around what matters most to you. Don’t overthink whether you need to invite Aunty Sarah’s 5th cousin, just go with your heart and keep it all relatively simple.

    The smaller your celebration is, the more flexible you can be.

    Don’t be afraid to be non-traditional

    Guess what, you’ve already broken tradition by getting married without a wedding. Good for you! Now let’s carry that forward into your jubilee.

    Stepping away from the norms of a wedding means you can be creative. Don’t stick to the rules. Do what makes you happy, because, guest what, if you’re happy, the chances that your guests will be happy as well. The people that mean the most to you will revel in your jubilation.

    Whether that’s the previously mentioned Hawaiian shirts over tuxedos, or trekking up a Scottish mountain. Become your own wedding visionary.

    Conclusion

    And that just about wraps it up. Hopefully you now know how to get married without a wedding. Whether planning a small legal ceremony, or skipping the party altogether, you should be able to create a marriage that is perfect for you and your needs.

    No matter your reason, whether saving money or just not the party type, your day is your day and providing you and all your guests know where they stand. Everyone should get behind you and allow you to get married the way you want to!

    Sources

    [1] – https://www.merriam-webster.com

    [2] – https://www.gov.uk/government

    [3] – https://www.findlaw.com/state/pennsylvania-law/

    [4] – https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/dvs/marriage-divorce/