Civil Marriages--what actually happens?

I’m writing a short story in which my main characters get married within a day of the proposal, and it’s to be a civil marriage. Firstly, where does one go for this sort of thing? Town hall? What sort of paperwork is involved? Who does one see, a judge, justice of the peace? Could one (or two :D) conceivably walk in some afternoon and walk out married? How exactly does the ‘wedding’ take place? Are vows spoken, or is it more of a “sign here, thank you, you’re married, pay at the window on your way out?”

I would like to know the basics of this–I intend to base this scene more on the emotions and trains of thought of the characters, but I’d like a factual background to base it on.

Many thanks in advance!

Our civil ceremony was in a small courtroom, infront of the Family Court Commissioner – we couldn’t get a judge for the day and time we wanted. In Wisconsin there’s a 30-day waiting period on marriage licenses (or at least there was in 1990), so no, we couldn’t just walk in. (I think you’d have to go to Vegas for that. :slight_smile: ) The ceremony itself took about 5 minutes. There were vows (although I don’t really remember what they were!) and “I do’s,” and then we and our witnesses signed the marriage certificate.

Oh, and I believe we got the marriage license from the county clerk of courts. We filled out a form stating basic personal data, verifying that we were legally permitted to get married, etc. $50 fee. No blood tests. And the ceremony was at the county courthouse.

Waiting period…well, maybe my character’s been plotting behind his fiancee’s back, eh? There was an exchange of rings and everything? Correct me if I’m wrong, but is it essentially the vital part of a ceremonial wedding? IE, the vows and rings?

ALL weddings are civil ceremonies. The government does not recognize religious ceremonies, nor the authority of clergy to perform weddings. The government GIVES the authority to perform a specific wedding to a member of the clergy, justice of the peace, a clerk of some certain office, or another registered wedding commissioner.

My wedding was performed by my father, who registered as a wedding commissioner in the county that licensed the wedding. Anybody else who is allowed to sign a marriage certificate may do so. Signing the marriage certificate is the ONLY part of the wedding ceremony that matters – the rest is all fluff.

If what you want to know is “what’s the minimum amount of fuss that a wedding might entail,” then a ceremony at the courthouse will probably be the thing you’re looking for. No vows, no rings, just fill out the form, “sign here,” write a check, and you’re done. This can be done without a waiting period in roughly half the states of the union:

Civil ceremony here. License and marriage same county courthouse visit. Justice of Peace offered choice from book of standard vows. Ring optional.

I would suspect that if there’s a waiting period of any sort, he wouldn’t be able to plot behind her back. They’d both have to go sign the papers and come back 30 days later.

It would miss the point if he could go by himself, sign the papers, and bring her back 30 days later. :wink:

We had rings, no choice of vows. I honestly had no idea what was coming; all I remember is that there was no “obey,” which I had already decided I would not say if it was in there.

It will depend what jurisdiction you’re in (state, province, etc.) I believe that in Canada, vows are always required. It’s the public exchange of vows, in front of witnesses and a person authorised to conduct the ceremony, which makes the marriage valid. Signing the marriage certificate just provides a written record that the ceremony took place.

Waiting periods for licences will also vary. I think two or three days isn’t uncommon.

Nametag, AcidKid, that’s just what I was looking for. Indefatigable, I realized what I had said just as I read your post–I most certainly did not mean it in that sense. I’ll be setting the story somewhere where there is not waiting period. Scarlett67, you’ve been a wealth of information, and I thank you deeply for your experienced font of knowledge.

Just posting to let everyong know that their information and redirection was extremely helpful, and I’ve gotten through that scene in my story. This thread may be closed, as I’ve finished.

“Civil Marriages–what actually happens?”

Both parties are extremely polite, and never call each other names. True “Civil Marriages” are extremely rare.


It depends on where you get married. Where is this fictional marriage taking place? Our ceremony was in Florida. We went to the county courthouse, filled out the form to obtain the license, signed the paperwork in front of the court clerk ( ithink she was a notary) she signed and TA-DAH! We were married, no vows, no rings. I think she asked if we were both taking this obligation freely and without coercion or something like that.

I had another friend who got married in Denmark. They had to go and get the paperwork a month ahead of time and then return for the ceremony. Another couple I know got married in Korea. Neither coupole spoke the manguage so they traveled around the city from one official office to the next obtaining official stamps. Then they went to what they thought was an official to marry them only to be infomed that they were already married…

When I was married, many years ago, the civil-marriage office in Vancouver was in a hospital building, just down the hall from the VD clinic. :eek:

We paid, filled out forms, and spoke the vows.

In the UK all marriages are civil except those carried out by the Church of England. We got married in a catholic church and the priest was acting as an agent of the ( civil) registrar so , a few weeks before, we had to go to the registry office , tell them of our plans and the licence was issued to the catholic priest to carry out the wedding. This is not necessary in a Church of England marriage. It is all carried out by the parish priest , who calls the banns and can perform the marriage in his own right without referance to the registrar.

I never say, but judging by the links I’ve been given through this thread, I’d put them in CA.

When we went in to get married, I called ahead of time to get the information. And had them add us to the list for the day and time we wanted.

The day of the arrival, we went in to the courthouse, handed the clerk our IDs, filed out paperwork. She typed up the license itself, had us put up our right hands and swear that we were truthful and were coming of our own free will. Then she signed off that the license had been obtained legally.

We returned later that day for the actual ceremony. Witnesses signed first, then when we got called into the judge’s chambers, he filled out and signed the rest of the certificate, we did the vows and ring exchange, and that was it.

Well, other than the mini-reception and the honeymoon, of course…

Ferry, you asked for civil ceremonies, which I don’t have any sources for. But here are the key legal parts from the wedding ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church. You’ll notice that there’s little reference to God or religion in them (that’s elsewhere in the service). I’d omit the words I’ve italicized to make it a fairly standard format for a civil ceremony. I’ve substituted Judge for “Celebrant” – whoever officiates at the service is what’s meant.

That’s not exactly what you were looking for, but it’s a modernization of the traditional vows without overtly religious stuff included, so I hope it’s some help.

We got married in Louisiana, where only one of you has to show up to get a license. You have to have birth certificates and social security numbers for both partners, but you don’t have to both physically be there to get a license. There’s normally a 3 day waiting period, but that can be waived if you’re from out of state. We got our license a few hours before the ceremony.

I believe how much of a ceremony is required varies by officiant.