What is a Shotgun Wedding?

Michael Bold
Written by Michael Bold · Posted in Advice Last Updated February 17, 2024 · minute read
In This Article

    Unless you’ve been living under a rock chances are you’ve heard the term “shotgun wedding” branded about before. And no, we’re not talking about the 2022 movie flop starring Jennifer Lopez!

    But what is a shotgun wedding? Where did this term originate? And how are they any different from any other big day celebration?

    The simple answer is a shotgun wedding refers to a wedding that is done in a hurry usually because a couple finds out they’re pregnant. So what’s the big deal? Times have changed!

    groom kisses brides head while embracing

    What is a Shotgun Wedding?

    In this article, we intend to tell you everything you need to know about shotgun weddings. We’ll explain why they’re still a thing, go through some advantages and disadvantages of having one as well as offer our top tips if you think you need to have a wedding in a hurry.

    Over the years we’ve photographed our fair share of shotgun weddings. They have a unique vibe and are something we always look forward to, creating lasting memories for our couples.

    So let’s get into it as we dispel some of the longstanding myths and tell you all about shotgun weddings in the modern day.

    Why do they call it a shotgun wedding?

    Legend has it that a guy got a girl pregnant, her father wasn’t best pleased and thought it would bring shame to his family. He whips out his shotgun and threatens the father of his unborn grandchild with said weapon. “Marry my daughter or I’ll kill yeeee” (ok we’ve added the pirate’s voice for embellishment) and apparently that’s where this myth was born.

    Whilst that might not necessarily be true (especially the pirate’s voice) it is a term that has been passed down through generations. 

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    Why do people still have shotgun weddings?

    There are many reasons why a couple chooses to get married but there is a supposed shame around having a child out of wedlock. Whilst this feeling is much less common nowadays it still exists particularly in some cultures and religions. 

    The solution is for couples to get married as quickly as possible. This may be done by having an elopement in a hurry, rushing to the registry office or simply throwing a typical wedding before the due date.

    Of course, if it’s your intention to keep your pregnancy a secret the sooner you get married the less likely people are to find out you were pregnant before saying “I do”. Having a baby 2 weeks after your wedding day sort of gives the game away.

    In our opinion, the term and its connotations are outdated. Many couples live with each other before getting married these days. At the same time, they’ve probably already expressed their desires to each other about having children or not.

    Equally, having a shotgun wedding or getting married quickly could also be for other reasons. We’ve had a few weddings change dates so that someone close to the family with a terminal illness could attend. So it’s best not to judge a couple as you never really know what’s going on.

    Getting married quickly can bring a whole host of problems to a couple especially if they’re also juggling the arrival of a little one. 

    With that being said there are still some logical reasons why a quick turnaround for your wedding may be a good idea. That’s what we’ll look at in the next section.

    Advantages of a shotgun wedding


    Marriage forms a legally binding contract between two people. At the same time with a child on the way it ensures that they both have rights and responsibilities. This is one of the main reasons that people still have shotgun weddings in the present day. 

    Emotional support

    Just because a couple has a shotgun wedding it doesn’t mean they’ve been together for a short period of time. 

    They could have been a couple for the past 10 years, had an unexpected pregnancy and decided to tie the knot post haste. 

    However, a wedding could still bring them even closer than ever before and provide much-needed emotional support. It further cements the idea that they are there for one another through the trials and tribulations of life.


    “All that I have I will share with you” This can be a particularly poignant section from the wedding vows, especially if you’re expecting a newborn.

    Regardless of whether it’s a shotgun wedding or a traditional one, there are financial benefits to getting married. These include things like spreading your combined income across the two people to enter lower tax brackets or being able to secure a higher mortgage.

    At the same time receiving cash as gifts from a wedding registry could really help the two of you in setting up a home for your family. 

    Family support network

    Having a child is one of life’s biggest events. By having a shotgun wedding a couple is hopefully bringing two families together to form one big support unit.

    This can be particularly helpful especially if you can lean on them for help with childcare etc. 

    It is of course, not essential that you get married to increase this support network. However, it does affirm to your wider family that they are now part of something much bigger than they previously were.

    Reduces stigma

    As we’ve already touched on, it’s much more normal nowadays for couples to live together and have children before marriage. 

    However, it can still be frowned upon and seen as disrespectful in some religions and cultures. Having a shotgun wedding negates that and some of the stigma that can be attached to having children before marriage.

    Weddings are usually smaller

    Another advantage of a shotgun wedding is that they tend to be much smaller events. This is usually because of the quick turnaround time needed to say “I do”. 

    However, inviting fewer guests to your wedding will also reduce the financial burden. This can be especially important as raising a child is an expensive business.

    Unique wedding photos

    By having a shotgun wedding you can capture some unique photos. Whether the bride is showing yet or not it doesn’t matter there will be 3 of you in your wedding photos making them super special.

    We’ve shot loads of weddings with pregnant brides over the years. You can get creative with poses to hide a bump or show it off to its fullest. It’s always best to speak with your photographer and tell them what you’d like to do.

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    Disadvantages of a shotgun wedding

    A couple might not be ready

    One obvious disadvantage to a shotgun wedding is that a couple simply may not be ready. They may have only been together for a short time and not yet know whether they’re suitable for marriage.

    Stressful planning

    Organizing everything for a wedding is stressful at the best of times. Now imagine getting that done whilst pregnant! 

    This may add unwanted stress that won’t be healthy for the mother and child. At the same time, this may introduce tensions in a relationship especially if one half of the couple isn’t pulling their weight. 

    Limited wedding day options

    The nature of a shotgun wedding means getting married at very short notice. Wedding venues, photographers, wedding coordinators, and all manner of suppliers get booked up. 

    They also get booked well in advance. We once had a booking as far as 3 years before the big day! 

    As a result, it can be very difficult to find the best suppliers and venues that you want for a wedding. You’ll have to compromise which may not be an appealing thought.

    Finding the money

    Whether you intend to foot the bill yourself or are getting help paying for your wedding from your parents, that money needs to be found at short notice.

    The other consideration is that with a baby on the way do you really have the funds for a wedding? A traditional wedding gives you time to save and plan your finances much more effectively.

    Limits aspirations

    Organizing and planning a wedding takes up a lot of your time. However, a shotgun wedding needs sorting out and fast. 

    This can place limits on your other aspirations. There are only so many hours in a day. The time that’s taken up may prevent you from gaining a qualification that could help you get a better job. 

    Equally, it could stop you from going on holiday and enjoying some alone time with your partner. This may be especially warranted before the newborn comes along.

    You may be judged anyway

    In spite of your best intentions to avoid judgment people may do it anyway. They’ll know you’ve broken certain “laws” in their religion or culture and may think less of you because of it. So even with a shotgun wedding, you may be unable to appease them.

    That’s why we’re strong believers in just doing what you think is right for you and your partner.

    You may not get photos you like

    Whilst we said getting some unique photos at your shotgun wedding could be an advantage we understand it’s not for everyone. 

    Some people may see their shotgun wedding more as a formality rather than something to create gorgeous images from. 

    A couple might also be uncomfortable with a camera being in their face for their shotgun wedding. As a result, they might not hire a photographer. That’s absolutely fine in our book!

    What is the divorce rate for shotgun weddings?

    The United States has the 6th highest divorce rate in the world [1] at between 40%-50%. That’s pretty high, isn’t it?! 

    However, it’s not possible to know the stats on how many of these weddings were classified as “shotgun”. What we can tell you is there is a perception that a shotgun wedding won’t last because of its rushed nature. 

    On the other hand though just because it’s a shotgun wedding it doesn’t mean the couple haven’t been together for years. They could have a strong and successful relationship as well as the right support network around them. These things will all help in ensuring any marriage doesn’t end in divorce.

    Are shotgun weddings the same as elopements?

    In a word, no.


    • They both involve a couple getting married quite quickly
    • Generally both small guest numbers
    • The content of the ceremony will be very similar


    • Elopements are usually done in secret
    • An elopement won’t have a reception but a shotgun wedding might
    • Elopements go against the grain of a traditional wedding
    • Elopements generally don’t have guests (maybe a few witnesses)
    • An elopement can happen whenever a couple wants

    Whilst there are some similarities the differences outweigh them. A shotgun wedding is usually done because of societal pressures. An elopement on the other hand is a choice made by the couple to be non-traditional. 

    It does away with inviting loads of guests and spending copious amounts of money. A shotgun wedding on the other hand can involve all the traditions and suppliers that any normal white wedding would have.

    With all that said, a shotgun wedding can actually be an elopement. You could have an unexpected pregnancy and then get married by having a secret elopement. There are no rules that prevent you from doing this.

    Related Reading: What is a White Wedding?

    Is a shotgun wedding 100% necessary if we get pregnant?

    No, of course not. Whether or not you get married once you find out you’re pregnant is completely your decision to make with your partner.

    For goodness sake so no one should be forcing this life-changing decision on you. 

    That being said if you are religious or have particular beliefs then by all means uphold them if it’s important to you. 

    In the modern era though it’s much more acceptable to either have children and not get married at all or simply wait until after the birth of your child. 

    This gives you much more time to plan and arrange the perfect wedding. Hey, you’ll even have a cute page boy or flower girl to walk down the aisle with!

    How does a shotgun wedding differ from a normal one?

    There are lots of key differences that set a shotgun wedding apart from a traditional one.


    A traditional white wedding is usually initiated by one partner proposing to the other. 

    This can come as a surprise or be discussed by the couple. 

    A shotgun wedding on the other hand is usually prompted by an unplanned pregnancy. 

    There can be less romance with a shotgun wedding. They can be seen more as a necessity rather than born out of the pure celebration of a couple’s love for one another.


    Another key difference is the planning stage. Let’s say you find out you’re pregnant one month after conception. That gives just around 8 months to plan, organize and execute a wedding. That’s a lot to do whilst also juggling a job and BEING PREGNANT!

    Traditional weddings can be planned anywhere from 1-3 years out from the wedding date. 

    This gives plenty of time to adjust the plan, choose the right suppliers, and make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

    Practicalities Vs Aesthetic

    A shotgun wedding is mainly about the practicalities of getting married as quickly as possible. 

    A traditional wedding on the other hand allows for much more time to think about the style and theme of the day. 

    As a result, a shotgun wedding might be kept relatively visually simple because of the quick turnaround time required compared to a traditional one.

    Size of wedding

    The guest lists at shotgun weddings tend to be much smaller than at traditional ones. A classic white wedding allows you to get your invites out nice and early, usually about 2 years in advance. 

    Whilst you could invite as many people as you want to a shotgun wedding it may be a disappointment if everyone you invite is already busy on your big day.


    Understandably and with a child on the way shotgun weddings tend to have smaller budgets. A traditional wedding can cost an average of $30k in the U.S. [2] a figure that is hard to justify with another mouth to feed.

    At the same time, a traditional wedding may allow for years of saving and planning in order to achieve exactly what you want. A much quicker turnaround is required for a shotgun wedding so it’s not always possible to find the funds.

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    Will I still be able to find a gorgeous dress?

    Of course, you can still look fab on your wedding day! And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

    Many bridal shops will have specific maternity gowns. Equally, you could wear a much more free-flowing dress that will allow room for a growing baby bump. Your best bet is to go into a store and seek their professional expertise. You won’t be the first pregnant bride-to-be they’ll have seen, trust us!

    Try on a variety of dresses and make sure that you feel happy and confident in what you’re wearing. That’s the most important thing. 

    Your choice of dress will of course depend on how pregnant you are and how much you’re showing. If you’re going for an off-the-rack one try to make sure you’re purchasing it close to your wedding date. This way you can ensure a correct fit for the big day.

    Our top tips if you’re having a shotgun wedding

    Whilst planning a wedding at breakneck speed may be daunting to some it can be a challenge to relish. 

    Here are some of our top tips if you find yourself in this position.

    Prioritize the legal matters

    This should always be the first port of call. Find out exactly what you need to do to be legally married. 

    We know it can be tempting to think about the details like wedding dresses and cakes but ultimately these hold less importance. 

    If you want to have a shotgun wedding the most important thing is just that, the marriage and making it official. You should find out how long it takes, what you need to do, and where you need to go.

    Wedding dress alterations

    Wedding dress alterations can be tricky particularly if you’re pressed for time. 

    For that reason, you should aim to find a quality seamstress as quickly as possible. They should be able to advise you on the best type of dress to purchase. They’ll also be able to tell you what is and isn’t possible with regard to alterations for a baby bump. 

    You should let them know when you’re getting married as well as allow them to take current measurements. This will help them get a better picture of what will need to be done to the dress to ensure a perfect fit.

    Related Reading: How Long To Expect For Wedding Dress Alterations

    Be open and honest with your photographer

    Speaking from experience of shooting lots of shotgun weddings it’s a good idea to talk frankly with your wedding photographer.

    If you want to hide your bump they’ll be able to photograph you from a certain angle etc. In our opinion, it’s best to photograph the event in a documentary fashion. These will be photographs you can look back on in years to come and celebrate what you achieved.

    Equally, if you are self-conscious about your baby bump you could always have another shoot. This could take place a few months after the baby has arrived meaning you get the best of both worlds.

    Don’t be scared to ask for help

    You shouldn’t feel like you have to plan this super quick wedding on your own. Recruit as many helpers as you can. Call on friends and family to step up and lean on them when necessary. 

    Planning a wedding can be a lot of hard work. Even more so if you’re pregnant so they’ll no doubt be more than happy to assist. 

    You could even hire a wedding planner or a wedding coordinator if your budget allows. 

    They can help with the organization, arrangements, and management of your wedding day. They’ll make sure everything runs smoothly and it gives you a lot less to think about.

    Take time for yourselves

    Don’t burn yourselves out and try to look at the bigger picture. The most important thing is the health of the unborn child and its parents.

    Organizing a wedding is a lot of work so make sure you take time out. Book a spa day or go away from the weekend and have a digital detox. This will hopefully help to rejuvenate the two of you.

    Always try to remember the reasons why you’re doing this and know that it’ll all work out in the end.

    Can you have a second wedding after the shotgun?

    No, we’re not talking about finding someone new after your shotgun wedding! Haha 

    We’re talking about the fact your shotgun wedding could just be done to be practical. You and your partner could get yourselves down to the registry office for a no-frills legal marriage. You could invite just witnesses if they’re required where you’re getting married.

    Much further down the line when you feel ready you could then think about planning the perfect wedding. 

    This gives you the best of both worlds. You’re bringing a child into the world as a married couple and also have a wedding to plan and look forward to. This can be a much bigger occasion with all your nearest and dearest than having a shotgun marriage. 

    You could also have a destination wedding  anywhere in the world as your “second wedding” doesn’t need to be legally binding. Win-win!

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    A shotgun wedding won’t appeal to everyone but for others, it can be a solution to a problem they may find themselves in.

    We say “problem” reluctantly because in our opinion there shouldn’t be any stigma attached to having a child before getting married. However, we do know that it is still frowned upon in many cultures and religions around the world.

    Hopefully, after reading our article you’re a little more clued up on what a shotgun wedding is. You understand that they can have advantages as well as disadvantages and they aren’t too dissimilar to traditional weddings. 

    Ultimately they’re fast-tracked so on one hand can be much more stressful. On the other hand, however, they’ll make you decide on things much quicker because you have to.

    So, if you’re reading this article chances are you’re thinking of having a shotgun wedding. If so, what are you doing reading this? Get on with planning your big day already!


    [1] – https://divorce.com/blog/divorce-statistics/

    [2] – https://www.theknot.com/content/average-wedding-cost