With the number of mixed marriages taking place, many couples are opting to have a civil wedding ceremony instead of a religious ceremony for their marriage service. This allows them to include special readings, vows, symbols or wedding themes (whether religious or not) that they may not be able to include in a religious ceremony or location.
A civil ceremony contains no religious elements (except for what the couple may add) and can be performed in a judge's chambers, registrar's/lawyer's office or a venue of your choice, depending on the area in which you wish to get married in. Different laws apply to different states and countries and you can usually find out most of the information from the local court house or City Hall in the city where you wish to be married.
For a small fee, they should also be able to supply you with a list of names, addresses and phone numbers of various Officiants who can perform a civil ceremony. To find out more about U.S. marriage laws by state, visit: http://marriage.about.com/cs/marriagelicenses/a/usmarlaws.htm
It's a good idea to set up appointments and meet with 3 or 4 different Officiant's, as some won't be available on your wedding date and some you may not like. It is important that you feel comfortable with the Officiant who will be performing the ceremony and that you feel that he/she is interested in you as a couple.
1. Are you available on this date and are you willing to travel to the location? If you are planning on having a private civil wedding ceremony and a reception later for family and friends, ask if the Officiant can provide a room or location in which to conduct the ceremony.
2. How long have you been conducting civil ceremonies and what is your fee?
3. Are you available for a rehearsal and when are you available?
4. What is the standard ceremony that you use and can we add our own vows, readings, etc. to the ceremony? Do you have any sample ceremony sheets that you could provide?
5. What is the procedure we need to follow in order to obtain a marriage license?
The Officiant should be able to advise you on the procedure you will need to follow in order to get your marriage license. Here are a few things that are fairly standard in most areas. You will each need to have the following documents for a civil wedding ceremony:
Some localities still require couples to have a blood test before issuing a license. This is probably a good idea regardless of whether it is required or not. Remember, you're not just marrying one person... but every other person your mate may have slept with.
Also keep in mind to budget for the various fees, such as the Officiant's fee (for the ceremony), the registration fee and the marriage license fee. These vary from location to location.
As with any marriage ceremony, you will need to have two witnesses to sign the legal documents once the ceremony is performed. If you are eloping, often times the Officiant can provide the two witnesses from his/her staff.
All in all, a civil wedding ceremony is much more flexible in today's world. You both may incorporate aspects of each of your religions if you wish, write your own vows and have any type of wedding theme you want, whereas a typical religious ceremony tends to restrict much of this.
Civil ceremonies also tend to be a favorite with the budget conscious couple, as they are usually much cheaper in the long run. Whatever type of ceremony you choose, the most important thing to remember is do what makes you happy as a couple. It's your wedding after all.